Stimulus anniversary timeline: A year on the road to nowhere

Allahpundit is probably right that Pres. Obama’s attempt to spin the “stimulus” law as a success is politically futile. However, the Obama administration is going to spend all week on the effort (“More Cowbell!”), so it is worth a look at how their first big project ended up with a six percent approval rate in the Dem-friendly CBS/NYT poll. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor has the full timeline (.pdf); these are just a few of the grim milestones on the Road to Nowhere:

  • February 17, 2009: The nation’s first Recovery Act project is announced, a new bridge in Tuscumbia, MO. CNN later reports on “A New ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.”
  • April 13, 2009:The Administration announces the 2,000th Recovery Act project, but an ABC News fact check reveals that far fewer projects are actually underway, and may not come in under budget as claimed.
  • May 27, 2009: President Obama marks the 100 day anniversary of the Recovery Act by claiming that 150,000 jobs have been saved or created. Politifact calls this “not much better than a guess presented as a fact.”
  • July 27, 2009: Congressional Democrats claim highway and transit spending from the stimulus has created or sustained 48,000 jobs. ProPublica says “the estimate suffers from what’s become a common malaise in the stimulus world: fuzzy math.” ProPublica found “a reliance on raw head counts — which tend to inflate the numbers by giving full- and part-time jobs the same weight — and by counting the same workers two, three or four times.”
  • October 15, 2009: The administration announces that contracts awarded with Recovery Act funds have created or saved 30,383 jobs. The Associated Press found “some counts were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of jobs; some jobs credited to the stimulus program were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.”
  • October 30, 2009: The administration announces that the Recovery Act has saved or created 640,329 total jobs. On November 19, the Administration admits that they cannot confirm their claim.
  • December 18, 2009: The Administration sends out a memo saying they will no longer count jobs “created or saved,” but instead count jobs funded in whole or in part by the Recovery Act. But they brought it back in the most recent report from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

What leaps out from the timeline is that the Democrats not only oversold the Recovery Act, but continued to oversell it — not just with these claims but also puffery from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, etc. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose from 7.6% to over 10 percent. In addition, the adminsitration was embarrassed by a stream of news stories about wasteful stimulus projects like the $3.4 million spent for an alligator crossing, the million-dollar guardrail, and so on. It is small wonder so few believe the Recovery Act was a success.

The holdouts tend to be in the establishment media, like the New York Times. David Leonhardt relies on models from economic search firms, perhaps those who have been continually surprised as unemployment rose “unexpectedly.” Others will tell you that the stimulus at best “saved” jobs, but did not “create” them. The Congressional Budget Office will tell you that “it is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.” And when you look at those competing views, you will find a general agreement that the jobs that got saved were primarily in government, and education (which is mostly government). In the private sector, the Recovery Act is killing some jobs, as it extracts money to prop up the government spending. In addition, Leonhardt leaves out arguments that that other policies may have been not only cheaper, but also more effective. He also omits warnings from the very sources he cites that any short-term gain from the stimulus should be balanced against the medium-term risk of a debt crisis. That road is worse than a Road to Nowhere.