About the only people on the planet who say the 2009 Recovery Act (ARRA) failed are Republicans. This is a necessary posture for them, given that not one of them voted for it. They have too much ideology vested in its failure to admit success, which is why they attack projects like Solyndra and green energy in particular. It's why the Republican governors in Republican states reject high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects. It isn't that it wouldn't be great for their states. It's simply that the funds came into being via the Democrat in the Oval Office and thin majority of Democrats in Congress, and so they just cannot, will not, bring themselves to be a party to possible success.
Their lack of patriotism is unsurprising, but still astounding in its cynicism. But was the stimulus package and overall success? Though there is a wide range of studies and opinions, the consensus among economists appears to be yes, it did.
ProPublica investigative reporter Michael Grabell decided to find out. In this interview on NPR's Fresh Air, he discusses what went right, what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and his conclusion about the overall success of the stimulus package as laid out in his new book, Money Well Spent? What Really Happened To The Trillion-Dollar Stimulus Plan.
For example, you will hear a lot from Republicans in this election year about how President Obama has failed, as did the stimulus, because unemployment percentages were not reduced to the originally-predicted 8 percent. However, Grabell notes the following:
It is the famous plan that now people talk about as, you know, Obama promised that we would be at 8 percent unemployment by - you know, we would never go over 8 percent unemployment if we passed the stimulus package.
And ultimately, if you read the actual report, the prediction was right. They predicted that the change in the unemployment rate would be about 2 percentage points with the stimulus package, and that's what we resulted in if you look at economic forecasts.
Other aspects of the stimulus have, and will continue to, provide the quick sound bite for Republican candidates, like Newt Gingrich's cheap "food stamp President" shot. Because the stimulus expanded eligibility and made it easier to apply for SNAP, Republicans use it as a wedge to paint President Obama as a failure who is handing out government money to "those people." These stimulus provisions were what Grabell calls the "invisible stimulus."
GRABELL: Yeah, a lot of the - you know, the administration took a lot of effort to promote public works projects; talking, you know, holding events at infrastructure, highway projects. And that really created this impression that this was going to look and feel a lot like the New Deal.
And what the package really had was that more than $500 billion, the vast majority of this package, was invisible, in things like safety net spending, unemployment checks, food stamps, tax cuts. These eventually created jobs down the line, you know, for a supermarket cashier.
But it really was difficult for the public to see this. The other part of the stimulus package that was invisible was in keeping things as status quo. And what I mean by that was, you know, a great accomplishment of the stimulus was that it saved a lot of teachers' jobs.
But when a teacher was in the classroom, you know, the public didn't think, well, that's because of the stimulus package. They thought, you know, well, that's my teacher. So the administration really didn't get a lot of credit for that. No one really said that teacher is there because of the stimulus.
He doesn't even mention things like the 65 percent COBRA subsidy for unemployed people, which helped many people hold onto their health insurance until they were re-employed or it ran out in 2011. But that helped too, if invisibly.
Grabell's criticisms of the stimulus package include the too-early offer of one-third tax cuts, which went unnoticed, the infamous "shovel-ready project" claim, the too-even distribution of funds to the states, which left some states short and lower-population states flush with cash, and design flaws in the overall plan that left openings for Republicans to criticize and ridicule projects as "silly" or "wasteful."
But did it work? Was it worth it? Listen to the show for Grabell's conclusion.