WASHINGTON – The White House and its Republican foes opened a new skirmish over President Barack Obama's 800-billion-dollar stimulus plan Thursday, on the second anniversary of the bill's enactment.
Vice President Joe Biden, who was charged with ensuring the massive infrastructure spending and tax cutting bill was not consumed with fraud, insisted the act did its job.
But Republicans, seeking to extend their political assault on President Barack Obama as a big spending, deficit-busting liberal, branded the plan a failure which defied common sense.
The White House argues that the stimulus bill was a success simply because it staved off a repeat of a second Great Depression, and that the economy, now growing again, has come a long way out of the mire.
It also uses government data to show that the economy was in far worse shape when Obama took over than previously thought, and argues that the bulk of massive job losses were the result of Republican economic policies.
Biden argued that the Recovery Act was never intended to fill the massive hole blown in the economy by the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.
"The Recovery Act wasn't designed to bring back the economy," Biden said, adding that it had succeeded in stabilizing the dire situation in 2009, building a platform for long-term growth and making government more responsive.
"We set out to prove we could do something big, well," Biden said, styling the bill as an attempt to prove to Americans that the government could function and tackle a massive crisis.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a cabinet meeting on the stimulus plan that the administration should be "proud" of its work.
"The stimulus plan worked. I don't care what anybody says, I don't care what anybody has written," LaHood said.
"We ought to be mighty proud of it."
The White House cites data by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office as saying that the stimulus plan is responsible for as many as 3.6 million jobs and for reducing the unemployment rate by two percent.
It says that average growth of three percent over the last six quarters is largely due to the bill.
Republicans however sought to use the stimulus plan as evidence of what they see as a lack of seriousness by Obama on cutting a budget deficit predicted to hit 1.65 trillion dollars this year.
"Within a year of its passage, the so-called Stimulus bill had become a national punch-line," Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell said, seizing on rosy administration predictions that the plan would drive unemployment by now below seven percent.
"The bottom line here is that two years after the President told us he was investing in our future, here?s what we have to show for it: higher unemployment than they predicted and trillions more in debt.
"The fact is, dangerously high debt has actually slowed the recovery, making it harder to create private sector jobs.
Republican House of Representatives speaker John Boehner said that the legacy of the stimulus bill was clear.
"It failed. After two years and a trillion dollars, the American people are still wondering: where are the jobs?"
According to official data, the January unemployment rate fell a surprisingly strong 0.8 percentage points from December to 9.0 percent.