Speaker Pelosi bets the House on success of $787 billion stimulus

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has issued 260 statements on the stimulus package over the past year in an effort to win a debate that could be the key to retaining the Democrats’ majority in the House.

With climate change legislation considered dead and healthcare reform on the ropes, Pelosi has not let up in making the case that the stimulus bill has averted an economic meltdown since it was signed into law one year ago on Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Speaker’s emphasis on the stimulus exceeds healthcare reform and climate change, her flagship issue. Her office has issued 146 written statements on health reform and 138 on energy over the last 12 months, according to a review by The Hill.

Pelosi jumps at every opportunity to tout the effects of the stimulus. Earlier this month when the unemployment rate dipped to 9.7 percent, Pelosi compared the January 2010 figures with those of last January, when the country was shedding about 750,000 jobs.

“Our Recovery Act was an important part in making that change,” she said.

While many conservative Democrats have been wary of climate change and healthcare reform, most of them backed the stimulus. Forty-four House Democrats rejected the climate measure and 39 opposed the House health bill, while only seven Democrats voted against the final stimulus package.

For better or worse, Democrats’ election hopes are tied to the stimulus.

A year ago, President Barack Obama staked his presidency on the Recovery Act: “I expect to be judged by results and ... I’m not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn’t worked and people don’t feel like I’ve led the country in the right direction, then — you’ll have a new president.”

But Obama isn’t on the ballot this year. And over the last several weeks, the chances of Republicans taking over the House and/or the Senate have been on the rise.

Democrats in the White House, Congress and party headquarters have launched a coordinated attack on those Republicans who have both blasted the stimulus in Washington and sought credit for it back in their districts.

“It’s an aggressive pushback,” a Democratic leadership aide said.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tim Kaine on Tuesday said the stimulus saved the nation from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and noted there are 93 Republicans in the DNC’s “Recovery Act Hypocrisy Hall of Fame,” including Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Eric Cantor (Va.) and Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

To mark the one-year anniversary, congressional Democrats across the country are holding events to highlight how the stimulus helped their local communities.

“That’s a powerful message,” the aide said, claiming the implementation and impact of the stimulus “is a two-year process.”

Meanwhile, the White House issued a new report on Tuesday claiming the stimulus “added between 2 to 3 percentage points to real GDP growth in the second quarter of 2009; between 3 and 4 percentage points in the third quarter, and between 1.5 and 3 percentage points in the fourth quarter.”

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said: “The Recovery Act has pulled America back from the brink of economic disaster and has helped create or save about 2 million jobs while providing a tax cut to 95 percent of Americans … Even Republicans, who continue to publicly oppose the Recovery Act while in Washington, proclaim its success in their congressional districts.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Peter Morici, professor at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, noted that the politicians who are talking the most are usually losing the message war.

Morici said the significance of Pelosi’s many statements on the stimulus is that job creation is extremely important to Americans and a reflection of how “little Democrats have accomplished.”

Pelosi knows the spotlight this election year is on Congress. In 2004 and 2008, she noted that most of the congressional campaign messages couldn’t get through the cacophony of the presidential contests.

In 2006, she helped craft the “Six for ’06” message while hammering Republicans for the Iraq war and ethics lapses. The message resonated, and the Democrats’ wave made her the first female Speaker of the House.

Pelosi is playing defense this year, and has been fighting an uphill battle on the impact of the stimulus. The White House boldly — and incorrectly — predicted the stimulus would cap unemployment at 8 percent.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) last month said Obama made a mistake in underestimating how bad the nation’s economy was when he took office.

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, “Washington Democrats claimed that if we passed their trillion-dollar government spending binge, jobs would be created ‘immediately,’ but instead, after it was signed into law, 3 million more Americans lost their jobs … Democratic leaders in Congress can’t duck this, or paper over it, or stick their heads in the sand. The problem isn’t their message, the problem is their job-killing agenda.”

William H. Boone, a professor at Clark Atlanta University, said it was normal for Americans to have high expectations for the stimulus: “We are in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and so people started to attach their expectations to this package — whether they were realistic or not.”

Democrats have staunchly defended the stimulus, but were not eager for a sequel. They worked hard to make sure the media didn’t label the jobs legislation moving its way through Congress as “Stimulus II.”

The Hill’s tally of Pelosi’s 260-plus press releases on the stimulus did not include statements she has made at her weekly press conference or the many releases issued by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on the Recovery Act.

She issued the most statements, fact sheets and reports on the stimulus in March of 2009, with 35. Last month, she sent out 28 such releases.

John Owre, Jennifer Swift, Drew Wheatley and Brooke Wylie contributed to this article.