Though stimulus has done its job, GOP has done its job in convincing the public otherwise

As New York Times business columnist David Leonhardt wrote yesterday (a column included in the op-ed pages of today's St. Pete Times),

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

Yet I’m guessing you don’t think of the stimulus bill as a big success. You’ve read columns (by me, for example) complaining that it should have spent money more quickly. Or you’ve heard about the phantom ZIP code scandal: the fact that a government Web site mistakenly reported money being spent in nonexistent ZIP codes.

And many of the criticisms are valid. The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it’s almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6, an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11, the moon landing.

So why doesn't the public feel the same way?  According to a recent CBS News/NY Times poll, only 6%(!) support the stimulus.  Obviously, promising to reduce unemployment, as the administration did in selling the plan, has backfired, big time.  But there is no question it has worked effectively as a social safety net for hundreds of thousands of jobs (including tens of thousands of teaching jobs in Florida).

The Obama administration has been farming out Cabinet and sub-Cabinet members around the country to extol the virtues of the legislation this week, on its one-year anniversary.  In Tampa, apparently because we got the president himself here three weeks ago, we're getting a C list official (with all due respect) in Ron Sims, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who will be at J.L. Apartments in Tampa , a senior public housing complex, to discuss what over $3 million in stimulus money has done for that facility.

As long as unemployment stays high (which most economists believe will be the case throughout the rest of 2010), Barack Obama is going to be on defense.  Ditto the Democratic-led Congress.  What they do between now and November (hello, health care) matters a great deal.

But the demagoguing on the stimulus should be seen as a boon for Republicans, who were dealing with an electorate absolutely stunned and shocked by a $700 billion bailout bill for banks already.

Meanwhile, we've reported on the past on how Florida GOP legislators left $443 million of stimulus money on the table to change the state's unemployment-eligibility laws.

The Orlando Sentinel has an excellent story on that this week, reporting that 32 states have accepted the money.  But Florida is reluctant to change its rules.

Fair enough.  But as State Senator Dan Gelber has been arguing, the state can change its rules, and then when the money runs dry, change them back.  His argument has gone into the ether, but now at least one Republican, Thad Altman of Brevard County,  is also echoing that refrain.  He tells the Sentinel:

State Sen. Thad Altman, a Brevard County Republican, said "it's worth serious consideration" because "so many people are hurting right now."

What's more, said Altman, nothing prohibits the state from loosening its eligibility requirements, taking the money and later changing the law again.

"It has to be in place two years, but after that, if you find it's too expensive, you can go back and make adjustments," he said.

But the article adds that business interests oppose it.  So that decides that here in the Sunshine State.

In a 10-day blitz leading up to the stimulus anniversary, Rubio launched a "stimulus money bomb" fundraising effort that netted over $860,000 for his campaign, with the help of another "money bomb" launched by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) on Rubio's behalf, his campaign said

Marco Rubio is in Washington today, where he will give the keynote speech today at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee's annual confab, where all the stars of the right wing come and play (Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich area also on the program).

As the Miami Herald/St. Pete Times reports today, he's come a long way, baby, since the dark days of last summer, when the former House Speaker trailed Charlie Crist by as much as 29% in one respected poll in their matchup for the Republican nomination for Senate here in Florida. And his CPAC speech comes a day after the anniversary of the signing of the $787 billion stimulus package, a bill that has been so good to Rubio.

Not only has his criticism of Crist for  supporting the plan and the now infamous hug with President Obama been a key talking point for Rubio, but it's also been financially beneficial, as he recently launched a "stimulus money bomb" fundraising effort that raised over $860,000 for his campaign, culminating last week on the anniversary of "the hug" in Fort Myers.

But though Rubio and his fellow Republicans say otherwise, a group of leading economists are claiming the stimulus has been a success, though you'd never be convinced of that watching or reading daily news coverage of it.

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