As Economic Woes Deepen, Obama Underlines Stimulus

President Barack Obama says he won't accept a cycle of job loss in the U.S. The president spoke to police recruits in Ohio who were on the brink of unemployment until the stimulus bill passed. Video by AP
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio, March 6 -- Faced with a deteriorating business climate and dogged Republican criticism of his measures to stem the nation's economic decline, President Obama stood Friday with 25 police recruits here whose layoffs were reversed by his stimulus package.

Obama addressed the recruits' graduation ceremony to demonstrate the impact of the stimulus and to again make the case that "bold action" is needed to revive the economy.

"This country has never responded to a crisis by sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best," Obama said. "We have a responsibility to act, and that's what I intend to do."

The 25 recruits were issued layoff notices in late January after shrinking revenue caused the city to determine that it could not afford to hire them as police officers. But $1.25 million included in the $787 billion stimulus package enacted last month resuscitated those jobs.

"There is no longer any doubt you will be employed as officers of the law when you leave here today," Obama said.

The president's appearance here came just hours after the Labor Department announced that the nation's economy shed 651,000 jobs in February, the 14th consecutive month of job losses. In that time, the economy has lost 4.4 million jobs. The national unemployment rate now stands at 8.1 percent, the highest level in a quarter-century.

With a hard-won victory on the stimulus package in place, the Obama administration has eagerly set about showcasing its impact. The stimulus has come under relentless attack from Republicans, who point to the package and to Democratic budget priorities as examples of profligate government spending that they say does not focus tightly enough on job creation.

Vice President Biden on Friday traveled to Miami to highlight $4 billion in law enforcement funding included in the stimulus. That money will pay for items including police overtime and crime lab improvements in police departments across the country.

Members of Congress who opposed the stimulus have now trained their criticism on an omnibus spending bill being considered in the Senate, as well as Obama's $3.6 trillion budget for next year.

"Even as Americans' job prospects grow dimmer, their savings evaporate and their budgets tighten, Washington Democrats seem more determined than ever to continue pursuing tax hikes and pork-barrel spending increases that are only proving to make matters worse," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Obama continues to push back hard against his critics, saying that the economy would not improve if government did not play an aggressive role to ignite a recovery.

"There were those who argued that our recovery plan was unwise and unnecessary," he said. "They opposed the very notion that government has a role in ending the cycle of job loss at the heart of this recession. There are those who believe that all we can do is repeat the very same policies that led us here in the first place."

While national polls show public support for the stimulus, the president's task has been complicated by continued problems in the economy. Beyond the rise in unemployment -- which economists project could continue for most of this year, if not longer -- the stock market has fallen to lows not seen in 12 years. Meanwhile, the housing market and the automobile industry continue to struggle, and the nation's financial system continues to teeter. In the face of mounting bad news, Obama has counseled patience -- and has worked to make clear that the economy was tanking before he took office on Jan. 20.

"Now, by itself, this recovery plan won't turn our economy around or solve every problem," he said. ". . . We've got big challenges ahead of us. We inherited a big mess."

Here in Ohio, the White House says, the stimulus package will support or create 133,000 jobs, in a state where unemployment has reached 9.7 percent. But the stimulus money is hardly a panacea, even for the Columbus police. While the federal funds rescued the class of cadets who graduated Friday, budget problems have forced the city to hold back on training a second class of cadets this year. Nationally, the Obama administration says, the package will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs.

"For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan," Obama said. "I ask them to talk to the nurses who are still able to care for our sick, and the firefighters and first responders who will still be able to keep our communities safe."

The administration's effort to demonstrate the impact of the stimulus comes as GOP leaders have been sharpening their criticism of Obama's spending plans.

"It is through the prism of creating and protecting jobs that we must evaluate the administration's budget plan," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.). "Sadly, as it stands, this budget does not adequately help working families, does not help small businesses and does not create jobs. Instead, it relies on overly rosy predictions for economic growth while spending money we do not have on questionable priorities and programs."

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