Not very stimulating

Mark your calendar. On Sept. 16, President Obama will be holding yet another stimulus event. Though we can expect to hear the president say again that he isn’t satisfied, we can also expect to hear Obama assure us that 600,000 jobs have been saved or created since this past Monday.


This week the Obama administration rolled out the stimulus package — again. Four months after passing the program, with unimpressive results, the White House decided to tout its promise once more.

Only $44 million of the program’s unprecedented $787 billion has been spent, which amounts to a shabby 5 percent. An analysis of stimulus spending by The Associated Press found the money going to the most economically comfortable parts of the country, instead of the least. The study, published in April, concluded that “no matter how the early money is measured, communities suffering most fare the worst.”

Republicans are swelling with chest-thumping pride, having voted nearly unanimously against the stimulus. House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called the results of the program “abysmal.” And even Vice President Biden, who sometimes slips up and uses the GOP talking points, has already admitted some of the jobs are “make-work,” and that "people are being scammed already."

If the Obama team wasn’t worried Cantor and Biden were right, they wouldn’t have repackaged the stimulus this week. And then there were those new Gallup poll numbers showing Americans are increasingly concerned about the new administration’s deficit spending. Majorities now disapprove of Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit and federal spending.

Add to that more bad jobs news: Unemployment has gone up 1.3 percent since the stimulus was signed into law, and now nearly one in 10 Americans is out of work. Though the rate of job loss has slowed, the president said he certainly isn’t happy with those numbers. This summer they will “accelerate,” and in 100 days he is promising 600,000 jobs.

Is this another Obama deadline — like closing Guantánamo Bay prison by next January — that was made in haste but surely can’t be met? Not at all, thanks to federal government math. We can estimate another 1 million jobs will likely have been lost by Sept. 16, if jobs continue to be shed at roughly the same rate as last month. Even the usually optimistic administration doesn’t think any job growth will come before the third quarter of 2010. But by then, 600,000 jobs will have been born or will have avoided the fate of elimination because, well, the government says so.

Administration officials claim an ability to guess what the economy would be doing without the stimulus program. But these officials are unable to say how much the 600,000 jobs will cost, or how many of them would actually be created versus saved. As Jared Bernstein, Biden’s economic adviser, told the Los Angeles Times, “That’s a division we’re not able to make at a level of accuracy we’re comfortable with.”

Basically, no matter how many jobs are lost in the months or years to come, the administration will tell us the number would have been higher without the stimulus. In these uncertain times, we can be certain of this.

But if the public’s concern over federal spending continues to grow in these next 100 days, those 600,000 saved or created jobs might be a tough milestone to celebrate — without a few thousand tea parties, that is.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.