WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hailed Wednesday’s one-year-old economic stimulus law as a solid accomplishment that staved off another Great Depression and kept up to 2 million people on the job.
Still, with millions still out of work and losing patience, Obama acknowledged that to them, “It doesn’t yet feel like much of a recovery.”
Marking the anniversary of the $787 billion American Economic Recovery and Investment Act, Obama aimed his message at people skeptical about the expensive relief measure and Republican lawmakers who voted against it and continue to hammer him about it.
To the public, Obama explained, as he has many times before, that the stimulus plan was composed of tax cuts for most Americans along with help for state governments, extended social service benefits and huge investments in energy, education and infrastructure.
“One year later, it is largely thanks to the recovery act that a second depression is no longer a possibility,” Obama said.
To his Republican critics, who say the bill was a costly, debt-financed blunder that has not delivered on the promise of job creation, Obama challenged them to take up the case with people who have stayed employed or have found help solely because he and the Democratic-run Congress acted.
Obama even delighted in recounting a section of his State of the Union address last month in which he talked of the tax cuts from the stimulus plan and watched Republican lawmakers fail to applaud the idea.
“They were all kind of squirming in their seats … It was interesting to watch,” Obama said.
Vice President Joe Biden, who heads implementation of the stimulus package for Obama, asserted that taxpayers have “gotten their money’s worth” out of the $787 billion stimulus program that Congress passed during the depths of the recession.
In a broadcast interview, the vice president, like Obama, defended the program against accusations by Republicans critics that it hasn’t been the job-manufacturing machine the administration promised to the American people.
He argued that money invested in both private and public-sector initiatives, and said, “I don’t think they realize it.” Biden said the program was designed to be implemented in two stages, saying “we’ve only been halfway through the act.”
Christina Romer, who heads the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a separate interview that one component of the stimulus program had worked especially well. “State fiscal relief really has kept hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and first responders on the job,” she said.
“We have seen productivity surge,” Romer said. “And that, at one level, is a good sign out the economy. But absolutely, we’ve got to translate GDP growth into employment growth. Right now, the employment numbers look basically stable. We think we’re going to see positive job growth by spring.”
The Obama administration has been feeling considerable political pressure of late, in part because of the stunning upset of its favored candidate in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Earlier this week, a leading Senate Democratic moderate, Indiana’s Evan Bayh, joined an increasing number of lawmakers who have announced they will be leaving Congress. This has come amid rising public anger over joblessness, high deficits and Washington partisanship.
Asked in an interview on CBS’s “The Early Show” whether the administration had focused too heavily on health care changes and new energy initiatives during its first months in office, when the recession had a grip on the economy, Biden said, “We’ve had to try to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The vice president said “the reason why there was so much emphasis on health care wasn’t just that people who don’t have it need it, and those who have it have to keep it.” He said the aim was “to affect the long-term debt.”
Biden said that “we’re in a situation here where if we do nothing about that cost curve — in the last 10 years, health care costs have gone up 100 percent.”
Gesturing with his hand, he said: “Now, unless you bring that cost curve from going like this, down like this, we’re in deep trouble.”
Biden also said the administration understands why people are angry about chronically high unemployment, which now stands at 9.7 percent of the labor force. “We get it,” he said.
“Look, we are in good shape compared to Congress,” he said of the political pinch the administration has felt in recent weeks. “No one in Washington’s in good shape.”
Biden said the atmosphere of high anxiety across the country “reflects the reality that Washington right now is broken.”
“I don’t ever recall a time in my career where, to get anything done, you need a supermajority, 60 out of 100 senators,” the vice president said, referring to the Senate filibuster rule that requires at least 60 votes to advance legislation to a vote.
“I’ve never seen it this dysfunctional,” Biden said.
Romer was interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”