Administration, RNC Skirmish Over the Economy
By Frank Ahrens
The White House and the Republican National Committee exchanged rapid-fire dueling press releases this afternoon that were purported to be about the $787 billion economic stimulus. In truth, they were about something potentially even bigger -- next year's mid-term congressional elections.
The stimulus plan -- signed into law in February, paid for by the taxpayer -- is undergoing intense and increasing scrutiny, which boils down to one question: Is it working?
Only 7 percent of stimulus funds -- about $56 billion -- have actually made it out the door. The Congressional Budget Office said from the beginning that the stimulus would be slow to stimulate; it will be the end of 2010 before even 75 percent of the $787 billion is spent.
But that's not a politically satisfying outcome to either party. Today, the White House looked to deflect Republican criticism of the slow-moving stimulus. Moments later, the GOP fought back, saying the White House promised way too much.
It started shortly after 1 p.m., when the White House sent out a release including a transcript from a segment of CNN's Fact Check last week, which was examining a Republican attack on the stimulus. A GOP ad claimed that, in North Carolina, the stimulus had been used to hire a new state worker ... whose job was to apply for more government stimulus money. The Fact Check segment found the worker was hired to apply for grant money, not government stimulus money.
Also in the release, the White House took on one of its toughest foes on the Hill, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said that no stimulus-backed contracts have been signed in his home state, an assertion that was challenged by the CNN piece, which said several contracts were "underway."
The Republicans let these challenges to their challenges linger unmolested for about 20 minutes, when the RNC responded, using media reports of its own.
The RNC release quotes Obama saying, as he signed the stimulus: "Most of the money we're investing as part of this plan will get out the door immediately and go directly to job-creation, generating or saving three to four million new jobs."
Then, the RNC quotes Obama in July: "It was, from the start, a two-year program, and it will steadily save and crate jobs as it ramps up over this summer and fall."
Not content to focus only on the stimulus, the RNC says this is not the first time President Obama has "moved the goal posts." The release noted that the White House predicted unemployment would peak at 8 percent then, last week, Obama raised his estimate to 10 percent.
With U.S. troops expected to be out of Iraq and the re-engagement in Afghanistan still small-scale, the economy is likely to be Issue No. 1 in next year's mid-term elections, especially as unemployment continues to soar (up to 9.5 percent last month), the stock markets lose their steam and consumer confidence sags.
The success or failure of the stimulus looms increasingly large for members seeking re-election who voted for it and for those looking to unseat incumbents -- specifically Republicans targeting wobbly Democrats.
Posted at 3:49 PM ET on Jul 13, 2009
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