Democrats get little boost from stimulus

Map of the 13th Distirct in Ohio
Gene Thorp/The Washington Post
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2010

ELYRIA, OHIO -- Republican House candidate Tom Ganley sold more than 800 cars last summer through the "Cash for Clunkers" government rebate program. But does Uncle Sam get a thank you?

"Let's talk about Cash for Clunkers," the voluble millionaire, who owns the largest auto dealership group in Ohio, told a group of voters here recently. "It created a 30-day surge in auto sales. After it ended, there was no business. It was like the faucet was shut off."

As the nation struggled through a painful recession, the Democratic-led Congress rushed through nearly $1 trillion in spending and tax cuts, aiming to jump-start business investment, keep state and local governments afloat and put people to work, if only temporarily.

Most economists say the nationwide stimulus effort has generally paid off, although they differ on how much. But the cash infusion appears to have done little to restore public confidence either in the federal government or in the Democratic Party. The stimulus may have created or saved up to 3.6 million jobs, as the White House contends, but the jobless rate in Ohio still hovers at a crippling 10.4 percent.

That has left Democrats such as Ganley's opponent, Rep. Betty Sutton, trying to convince voters that the stimulus made a bad situation somewhat less bad.

Doesn't exactly pop off a bumper sticker.

Sutton, a longtime state representative who was elected to Congress in 2006, led the effort to pass Cash for Clunkers. Her northern Ohio district, a blue-collar swath that stretches from Akron to Lake Erie, is heavily dependent on the auto industry.

Sutton thought she scored a legislative coup when President Obama signed the Clunkers bill into law. The rebates of up to $4,500 for people who traded in old cars for more-fuel-efficient new models were one of the few stimulus programs to attract broad bipartisan support. It was so popular that it required a second federal cash infusion.

But Sutton is a top target of Republicans, in part because of her support for the program. Her opponent's 31 dealerships sold an estimated $17 million worth of cars through Clunkers rebates, but he now denounces the program as a fiscal folly.

"I'm against government intervention of any kind," Ganley asserts.

The stimulus "creates work and not jobs," Ganley told the gathering of voters. "That may sound like a contradiction, but as we drove out here today there were all the orange barrels out on the highway, and all this work was being done with money from the stimulus. But as soon as that road's finished, the work's gone."

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