Stimulus Spin: Is it Working?

By Caitlin Taylor

Jun 3, 2009 11:20am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: To close watchers of the stimulus bill — and the spin wars surrounding it — Vice President Joe Biden made a comment yesterday that may have been even more startling that his admission that waste and scams are inevitable.  “You're going to see things start to really change in the second hundred days," Biden told a business roundtable at Pace University, according to the New York Daily News. "You're going to see this thing begin to move."  What’s interesting about that comment is that the administration has maintained that the stimulus is already working. President Obama and his economic team have fanned out to make the case that the stimulus has already “saved or created” 150,000 jobs. Biden’s office last week issued a report titled “100 Days, 100 Projects” to tout projects (with some exaggeration) that the administration claims are happening because of the stimulus.    But the truth is, even the Obama administration isn’t able to say for sure how many jobs the stimulus is saving and/or creating. No one is able to even say how many of the projects approved by the administration have even begun, because “it's such a moving target,” Jared Bernstein, Biden’s top economic adviser, said on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” last week.  With its promises to “save or create” 3.5 million new jobs, the Obama White House has set a fuzzy bar for itself; no one will ever really be able to say whether it’s been cleared. Even with the stimulus on the books, unemployment rose last month, and is likely to continue to rise in the coming months, according to the administration; the argument Bernstein and the economic team make is that job losses would be worse without the stimulus.  The problem, as Republicans are eager to point out, is that it’s really not possible to measure a “saved” job. The administration will be collecting such data from those receiving stimulus funds, but has said those numbers will only be used to supplement other job indicators, and won’t be the final word on job creation. It’s an imprecise measurement in a very imprecise field: “To understand just how unknowable this data point is, it's not necessary to be an economist, a mathematician or a statistician,” writes Tony Fratto, an economist-turned-CNBC-analyst who was a deputy press secretary under President George W. Bush.  “You only need to know this: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — thousands of the most professional and rigorous counters and analyzers of labor data in the history of mankind — makes TWO revisions of employment data for their ESTIMATE of the PREVIOUS month! And even then the reports are mere estimates — an annual benchmark survey is required to reset the nation's payroll baseline.” “That is, the best employment statisticians the world has ever known, people whose lives are dedicated to employment data, conducting labor surveys and research, constantly refining their complex models, have a difficult time telling you how many jobs were created in the PAST!” There’s an undeniable political element to all of this, too. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already running radio ads against six Republican lawmakers, attacking them for opposing the stimulus package. “Did you know Congressman King voted against the Economic Recovery Plan?” reads the script in one of the ads, targeting Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “He opposed an $800 tax cut and opposed creating or saving 215,000 New York jobs. Tell King to put New York first.”  The ads amount to a gamble by Democrats not simply that the stimulus is working, but that it will be deemed a political winner next November. “It is working,” DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told us on “Top Line” Tuesday. “And as the president said the other day, about 150,000 jobs have now been saved or created as a result of the economic recovery plan.  A lot of people would have been laid off, but for the fact that there are more road or bridge projects out there.” 

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