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Criticizing economic stimulus plan can be lucrative

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, February 18, 2010; A02

Those who say the federal stimulus program didn't create jobs have ignored a crucial sector of the economy: critics of the package, who right now are enjoying record production levels and full employment.

This burgeoning industry of conservative lawmakers, political operatives, think tanks and media outlets has benefited enormously from the legislation.

Consider the heightened output of the office of Rep. John Boehner (Ohio), the House minority leader, which on Wednesday issued a 35-page report with 151 footnotes documenting the failure of the economic stimulus plan.

These have been boom times, too, in the office of Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House minority whip, who has employed a large number of resources to produce his "Weekly Waste Watch," dedicated to tracking the stimulus legislation.

The film industry, too, has seen a stimulus-bill benefit from the increased output of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which put together a Web video titled "Boondoggle," a spoof on Google's Super Bowl ad and produced to torment Democratic lawmakers who supported the legislation.

President Obama, marking the first anniversary of the stimulus legislation Wednesday, said that "the Recovery Act is responsible for the jobs of about 2 million Americans who would otherwise be unemployed." While exact numbers are unavailable, it seems reasonable to estimate that a large portion of the 2 million jobs have been created in businesses related to stimulus criticism -- "stim crit" for short.

Some beneficiaries are in the private sector. "By the administration's own standards, the 'stimulus' spending orgy has failed miserably," the magazine Human Events reported.

Others are in the public sector. "Unhappy Anniversary for Democrats' 2009 Stimulus Law," announced Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee."

Still others are nonprofits. "Don't Celebrate First Failed Stimulus with a Second One," urged the Heritage Foundation.

But the vast majority of stimulus beneficiaries are small-time entrepreneurs who have used the measure to build an assembly line of press releases.

"The only thing the Obama stimulus plan has accomplished is building a bigger government," announced Rep. Todd Tiahrt's version.

"We know that the massive 'stimulus' spending bill enacted almost a year ago has done nothing but add more debt," said Rep. Michele Bachmann's press release.

There was a time when such statements would have been regarded as "talking down" the economy, and indeed some players in the stimulus criticism industry appeared to be celebrating economic misery. "In the first year of the trillion-dollar stimulus, Americans have lost millions of jobs, the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent, the deficit continues to soar and we're inundated with stories of waste, fraud and abuse," exulted Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate minority leader.

But one must also take into account the huge indirect benefit of the criticism industry, measured by what economists call the multiplier effect. As more Republican Party figures criticize the stimulus, jobs are created for researchers, printers and binders, webmasters and those who build and maintain servers to keep up with the crushing e-mail loads.

As the economic dollars continue to trickle down, the stimulus criticism means an increase in ratings and advertising money for conservative broadcasters. "A new CBS News poll shows that only 6 percent of Americans think the bill has created any jobs at all," celebrated Fox News's Sean Hannity in a broadcast this week. "There's more proof you cannot fool Mother Nature or the American people."

"Stimulus still hasn't done squat," was the take of Glenn Beck, who generated his own economic growth by developing a "one-year anniversary spectacular" episode Wednesday night devoted to stim crit.

Clearly, the Republican Party believes the stimulus funding has the ability to create jobs -- for Republican candidates.

"The stimulus created jobs," announced the Illinois GOP, "and the moon landing was faked."

"Americans will be spending the next few decades paying for a failed government experiment that provided zero relief," said the Pennsylvania GOP.

"Economic stagnation that would make even Jimmy Carter blush," said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, whose outfit put out a 17-point document titled "Stimulus Failure By the Numbers."

From all corners of the land, the great wheels of industry spun out press release after press release: "Failed . . . Hodgepodge of favored giveaways . . . Holy Out-of-Touch, Batman . . . Looming storm clouds of Obamanomics . . . Just how out of touch is the White House?"

Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) even wrote up a greeting card. "Happy Anniversary Stimulus," his press release said. "Wish You Came with a Gift Receipt."

He lies! Wilson would never return the stimulus. Criticizing it has brought him enormous prosperity.

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