Economy is recovering, but reasons stir debate

WASHINGTON — One year after the launch of the largest federal economic stimulus program in American history, a fiercely partisan political battle continued to rage over its effectiveness even as fresh data showed the economy continuing to make a gradual, if halting, recovery.

In what has become a predictable pattern, Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington marked the Wednesday anniversary by sniping at each other's claims about the $787 billion package of tax cuts and spending known as the Recovery Act.

Defending the stimulus, President Obama said that "one year later, it is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second Depression is no longer a possibility."

He said again that the stimulus had saved or created 2 million jobs and was on track to add 1.5 million more this year, figures in line with some private economic estimates and the assessment of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But those estimated benefits tend to be overshadowed by the fact that the economy has lost more than 4 million jobs in the last year while unemployment is hovering near 10 percent.

Republican lawmakers stepped up their attacks on the stimulus plan, calling it wasteful and ineffective.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, said in a release, "The only thing the Obama stimulus plan has accomplished is building a bigger government and driving our country further into foreign debt.... Instead, we need to unleash America's innovative spirit to grow the economy from the ground up."

Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, said, "When Obama took office, he promised a new era of hope, change and responsibility. What has actually happened since the Democrats passed their nearly trillion-dollar stimulus is nothing more than a return to the status-quo of more government spending and ever-increasing deficits, with no real benefits for Americans."

More than half of the stimulus money has yet to be spent, and Vice President Joe Biden said that work on roads, rails and other infrastructure projects would expand significantly this year.

But surveys indicate that many Americans doubt that the Recovery Act has had a big effect on Main Street, and the public has expressed growing concerns about rising government debt amid the intense political fighting and gridlock in Washington.