Obama speeds past his stimulus critics

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    President Obama spoke about the economy at the US Department of Transportation in Washington April 13
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The Obama stimulus is rapidly building a head of steam, outpacing its critics by the sheer speed of its implementation.

On Monday, President Obama highlighted the 2,000th transportation project funded by his $787 billion package – widening an I-94 interchange in Kalamazoo County, Mich. from two to three lanes each way.

On the same day, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman spoke at the National Press Club, pointing out how tax rebates and credits were putting a little more money in people's pockets and convincing first-time buyers to purchase homes.

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Full-court press

All of this is part of the administration's full-court press to persuade Americans that the stimulus is working despite a mounting chorus of doubters who wonder about the wisdom of using debt-financed spending to cure America's overindulgence in, well, debt-financed spending.

No matter what one thinks about its usefulness, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been speedy. Six weeks after the federal government announced its first ARRA project, it has approved 2,000 – a rate of nearly 50 projects a day.

New Deal speed

One would probably have to go back to 1933 when President Roosevelt invented the Civilian Conservation Corps from scratch to find a similar large-scale effort. Within four months of his inauguration, FDR had hired nearly 275,000 men in 1,300 camps around the country. Some of the wind breaks they planted to reduce soil erosion can still be seen in farm country today.

Mr. Obama praised the current program along similar lines: "I am proud to utter the two rarest phrases in the English language – projects are being approved ahead of schedule, and they are coming in under budget."

So many contractors have competed for the federal money that bids have averaged about 15 to 20 percent lower than engineers had anticipated, the administration said.

Efficient, but necessary?

That speed and efficiency is so impressive it seems almost churlish to question whether Kalamazoo County really needs three east- and three west-bound lanes on I-94, especially at a cost of $68 million to federal taxpayers.

While the population of the western Michigan county has grown 3 percent since 2000, it's not exactly congested. "We've got a lot of things to deal with out here, but traffic isn't one of them," said Monitor correspondent and Kalamazoo resident Yvonne Zipp in an interview.

Rush hour lasts 10 minutes, maybe 15 on a Friday, she added. On the other hand, the interchange gets a lot of truck traffic, so it might smooth things a bit. "Do express my deep appreciation [to the president] for thinking of us," Ms. Zipp said.

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