Why does Obama keep telling reporters there are 'no shovel-ready projects'?
Perhaps I should've written this post before interviewing Jared Bernstein, the vice president's chief economist, on the same subject. But if you read that interview closely, you'll see a White House that doesn't exactly know what to do with the president's comments. The administration doesn't think the stimulus failed. At the end of the day, the law met its spending targets. As promised, it dispensed with 70 percent of the funds within two years. Most of the remaining money will pay out when projects that are underway reach completion. Today, the White House released a video in which Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, argues that the intervention saved the job market (though by looking only at private-sector jobs, he stacks the deck, as the public sector is where recent job losses have been concentrated).
So why did the president tell Peter Baker -- and before him, David Brooks -- that there are no "shovel-ready programs"? Those were three of the most important words used to sell the program -- and the president's decision to walk them back is giving plenty of ammunition to his enemies. And shovel-ready is not a controversial concept: It's what Rep. Pete Sessions, the Dallas conservative, called his city's rail project when he wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking for some of the stimulus funding that he opposed.
And Sessions is no isolated case: Over the past two years, the stimulus has funded more than 15,000 transportation projects. In total, it's funded more than 75,000 projects. Those efforts weren't ready for shovels the morning after the bill passed, but it didn't take more than a couple of months to break ground on many of them, and all of them hit within the stimulus's two-year target range.
And even if the president was disappointed by the progress, why is he giving ammunition to the stimulus's critics only weeks before the midterm election? He couldn't have told Baker they'd conduct the interview Nov. 3?
The big news on the stimulus going into November should've been this report from the Center for Public Integrity pulling together the many, many letters Republican lawmakers sent asking the administration to use the stimulus to fund projects in their district and saying, forthrightly, that those projects would create jobs and improve the economy. Obama should be going around the country, setting up a podium at each of those projects and making clear just what it is the stimulus did, and just what it was that Republicans opposed. Instead, he's telling reporters that the foundational phrase of his sales pitch for the stimulus was a mistake, which implies to voters that the Republicans are right when they say the stimulus didn't work. File this one under "unforced errors," I guess.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press.
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