New Recovery Roadmap Has Much in Common with Old
By Alec MacGillis
President Obama and Vice President Biden today announced a new "roadmap to recovery" intended to speed up stimulus spending and rebut the perception that the $787 billion stimulus package is not yet having much of a job-creating impact, given the 9.4 percent unemployment rate.
But the list of spending plans detailed under the new "roadmap" amounts to little more than a restatement of the plans that were already underway for the coming months, without any explanation of what steps, if any, the White House is taking to accelerate the pace of spending. And the push to spin the package was accompanied by a classic Biden misstatement -- a videotaped comment that the money was geared toward "make-work projects."
As it stands, about $135 billion of the stimulus money has already been "obligated" -- that is, either sent out the door or approved to the point that it's sitting in a government account waiting for a state or other recipient to draw it down. The White House has cautioned for weeks that the money wouldn't really start having an impact until this summer and fall, once various programs got up and running. Its goal, it says, is to spend 70 percent of the money by the end of the summer of 2010.
But there are plenty of signs that the money is flowing even more slowly than the White House had led people to expect.
Part of this may be the White House's own doing. Obama and Biden, along with many congressmen, have so emphasized the need for accountability in spending stimulus money that many federal, state and local officials charged with spending are erring on the side of caution in setting up application and review processes for the cash.
To cite one example, the Housing and Urban Development department is still in the process of holding conferences around the country to discuss with local housing officials the application rules for a new homelessness prevention program being created as part of the stimulus. And many states are still in the process of setting up sessions to train workers to do the home weatherization work that is funded through the stimulus -- even though the warm-weather construction season has already arrived.
At the opening of a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Biden outlined for Obama the spending plans for the coming months, while Obama fiddled with a yellow pencil, according to a pool report. "What we're talking about here is putting some pace on the ball here, Mr. President... Every hundred days, if we're doing this right, Mr. President, should produce more than the last 100 days," he said. "By the fall I think we're going to be much further along the road to recovery." The spending would create or save 600,000 jobs over the next 100 days, he said, on top of the 150,000 jobs the White House said were created or saved in the first 100 days. Among the items on the "roadmap" for the next 100 days are 1,500 highway projects, work at 20 Superfund sites and 200 wastewater treatment projects, as well as grants for doctors and nurses in underserved areas.
Accepting Biden's report, Obama agreed that "We've got some good news to report," before adding, "Having said that, I'm not satisfied. We've got more work to do." At the same time, though, he reiterated the accountability mantra that has helped slow the pace of spending. "We're going to do it continuing to operate in a transparent fashion so that taxpayers know this money is not being wasted on a bunch of boondoggles," he said. "I think that sometimes good news comes in what you don't hear about, and you haven't heard a bunch of scandals -- knock on wood -- so far."
The Republican National Committee retorted by saying that the new "roadmap" was a sign that the White House was losing this particular political battle.
"Today, the White House confirmed that the Democrat economic stimulus bill is simply not creating the jobs President Obama promised. Simply put, the White House spin doesn't square with reality," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "Since President Obama signed the so-called 'stimulus' package, 1.5 million Americans have lost their jobs making the unemployment rate soar to a 26 year high."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), an outspoken critic of the stimulus package, took a contradictory tack, taking the White House's word that it would speed up spending but saying that this would result in more waste -- just the kind of cautionary mindset that has helped cause the White House to move so slowly.
But Republicans left untouched perhaps the easiest target of the day's back and forth -- an amusing misstatement in Biden's video comments accompanying the new roadmap, at Whitehouse.gov/recovery. In the remarks -- in which he also mistakenly said that the stimulus is creating 135,000 new teaching jobs, instead of keeping 135,000 existing teachers on the job, as is the case -- Biden said that the plan was creating "make work" projects. "More than $126 billion is heading out the door to make work projects that are going employ people at decent salaries," he said.
Presumably, the tongue-tied veep meant that the money was going to help put people to work on the projects. But on a day when the White House is seeking to assure people of the lasting value of the $787 billion, it was a bit surprising that the White House didn't try for a cleaner take two.
Posted at 2:55 PM ET on Jun 8, 2009
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