Wrapping up a week dominated by the BP oil spill, President Obama on Friday aims to reassure the public that he isn't neglecting the US economy, traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate the start of the 10,000th road project under the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus bill.
The trip is an occasion for the president to defend the Recovery Act, which many Republicans and some economists have criticized as getting too little bang for its 787 billion bucks. Mr. Obama is expected to point out that the federal stimulus will generate more jobs this summer than last, and he and his Democratic allies will cite these new jobs as bolstering their case for yet another economic stimulus package. At the very least, they hope to show voters that all those asphalt-laying crews and flag men have jobs because Washington cares.
“With the [Recovery] Act percolating along at the expected clip for well over a year now, I think a lot of folks assume that its impact is diminishing,” said Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden’s economic adviser, in a briefing Thursday. “In fact, the summer of 2010 is poised to be the most active season yet for the recovery, with thousands more projects under way across the nation this summer than last.”
Last July, 1,700 road projects were under way; this summer there will be almost 11,000, according to Mr. Bernstein. Last summer, he says, there were 130 clean-water projects starting up; this summer it will be more than 3,000. And last summer the government funded the weatherization of 3,000 homes; this summer it will fund new insulation and windows for 82,000.
“We are on track for at least 3 million Recovery Act jobs [since Congress passed the law in February 2009] by the end of September,” says Bernstein.
The Republicans are having none of it. On Friday, House Republican leader John Boehner said in a statement "again President Obama has come to Ohio and again he will tout a stimulus that is failing to meet his promises by every reasonable standard." He added: "This will be no 'recovery summer' for the more than 100,000 Ohioans who have lost their jobs since the 'stimulus' was enacted." And every time the White House points to a jobs gain, Republican leaders point to the national unemployment rate, which currently sits at 9.3 percent.
On Thursday, the US Labor Department reported new weekly jobless claims rose by 12,000, an increase that was higher than many economists had expected. Many economic reports, moreover, are beginning to show that the economy is starting to slow or even backtrack.
The jobs debate is likely to intensify as the November election draws nearer. On Thursday, Vice President Biden sent a report to Obama that hails this as a summer of recovery. Among Biden’s findings:
• Colorado will have 90 highway projects under way compared with 23 last summer.
• Michigan will see flag men at 646 highway projects compared with 21 last summer.
• California will have 450 highway projects compared with nine last summer.
In the case of the Columbus road project, Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood, who will accompany Obama on the trip, says it will provide improved access to a children’s hospital and 300 new jobs in a state where the unemployment rate was 10.7 percent in April.