Even before the first shovel went into the ground on a project funded by the Obama administration's $814 billion stimulus plan, the program was under attack from Republicans who have called it a waste of taxpayer money. But now the White House is fighting back.
A new report obtained exclusively by ABC News outlines the administration's top 100 stimulus projects -- a greatest hits compilation of what the White House considers the best examples of the stimulus in action.
"Republicans have often criticized the Recovery Act without recognizing projects specifically like the ones in this report," White House economist Jared Bernstein said in an interview with ABC News. "If you look at these projects, these are the ones that help plant the seeds for significant job opportunities for the middle class moving forward."
The report, entitled "100 Recovery Act Projects That are Changing America," highlights projects nationwide that the White House says are putting people back to work now and transforming the country's economy for years to come. The full report will be unveiled Friday by Vice President Biden.
The report highlights projects like the cleanup of an industrial park in South Plainfield, N.J. Thanks to $30 million in stimulus dollars, a wasteland contaminated by an old electronics plant is being transformed into a new industrial park. The White House says the project has already created 68 jobs and will be an economic boon to the South Plainfield area once it is completed next year.
"We are creating employment, getting folks in there, cleaning up that environment and this will be a new industrial park creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for decades to come," Bernstein told ABC News.
Cancer research is another job-creating stimulus project the White House is celebrating. The Recovery Act poured nearly $154 million into the Cancer Genome Atlas Project, an effort to beef up cancer research at 15 research institutions around the country. The White House says more than 150 scientists will be involved.
The White House also is touting the $175 million in stimulus funds being spent at New York's Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The funds are being used to replace nine bridges that are in a dangerous state of disrepair. There are 120 workers on the job rebuilding a transportation hub that services 60,000 to 65,000 commuters every day.
"We're thrilled to have stimulus money available to repair the vital links that will keep New York City strong," Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, told ABC News.
The new White House report bears a striking resemblance, both in format and in style, to highly critical reports from Republicans.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have issued three separate "Top 100" lists of what they consider the most wasteful stimulus projects. Their latest report, issued over the summer, included 100 projects that they said had "questionable goals," were "being mismanaged or were poorly planned" and were even "costing jobs and hurting small businesses."
Coburn and McCain's latest report highlighted projects such as a $70,000 grant for Wake Forest University to research how cocaine affects monkeys.
"I think all of them are waste," McCain said of the 100 projects in his latest report, issued in August. "I think none of them really have any meaningful impact on creating jobs. And of course some are more egregious than others, but all of them are terrible."
In a statement to ABC News today, McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said: "$1.1 trillion in stimulus spending, yet unemployment remains at a stagnant 9.6%, home foreclosures are up 25%, and the national debt is an ever increasing $13 trillion. Whatever happened to Administration's guarantee that unemployment would not rise above 8%? So much for the 'summer of recovery.'"
While the Republican criticism certainly has put the White House on the defensive, it is the discontent among the American electorate that poses the biggest threat to the administration as it continues to sell its economic agenda.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed 92 percent of Americans say the economy's in bad shape while a mere 24 percent believe it's improving. And for the first time, more people think President Obama has hurt the economy than helped it, 33 percent to 30 percent. In addition, the number of people who believe he's helped the economy has dropped by 9 percentage points since spring.
"When you put all the things we've done together, it has made a difference," President Obama said at a press conference at the White House last week. "Three million people have jobs that wouldn't have them otherwise had we not taken these steps. The economy would be in much worse shape.
"It worked," Obama said. "It just hasn't done as much as we need it to do. We've still got a long ways to go and we're going to keep on doing it."
Earlier this year, Obama visited one of the 100 projects in the report to highlight its effectiveness.
On April 2, he traveled to North Carolina to visit Celgard, a company that manufactures battery separator materials used in lithium-ion batteries for electric-drive vehicles. The company has said their stimulus-funded project already has supported more than 100 jobs and will support more than 250 by the time the project is complete.
"Through investments like this one across the country, we're already seeing an incredible transformation," Obama said.
"What we can see here at this plant is that the worst of the storm is over, that brighter days are still ahead," he said. "In Charlotte and all across the country, we can see the promise and possibility that awaits us."
Five months later, in the face of continued criticism, the White House still is trying to put a spotlight on that promise and possibility.
"These are innovative projects that helped not only create good jobs today, but also helped plant the seeds of new industries tomorrow," Bernstein said.