Today’s New York Times explores why the White House was wildly off in its employment projections when it was trying to sell the stimulus package. If you remember, the economic team said that if we passed the stimulus, unemployment would be around 8 percent now and without it, we’d be looking at unemployment in the double digits. Well, we passed the stimulus, and unemployment is 9.4 percent anyway, and the White House now concedes it will rise above 10 percent. The Times notes that, “In concrete terms, the difference between the situation that the Obama advisers predicted and the one that has come to pass is about 2.5 million jobs.”
The White House has offered two main explanations for why their estimates were way off. One is that only a small amount of the stimulus money has been deployed thus far. But I find that rather amusing, because at the time the stimulus was being debated, one of the very arguments critics were making against the package was that it was too focused on long-term projects and that most of the money would not get deployed for years. “I think there’s a lot of slow moving government spending in this program that won’t work,” John Boehner said on “Meet the Press” during the debate.
The other argument the White House has made is that the economy has deteriorated much more than anybody anticipated. In last week’s press conference, Obama said, “keep in mind the stimulus package was the first thing we did, and we did it a couple of weeks after inauguration. At that point nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like. If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report that the economy had tanked.”
But this is just another example of Obama rewriting history, because when he was trying to sell the stimulus, Obama was talking about the economic situation in dire terms. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Feb. 5, in which Obama made the case for the stimulus, he began, “By now, it’s clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression.” So either he was lying then about the depths of the crisis to sell the stimulus or he’s lying now to defend it.
However, even if we give Obama the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that economic conditions are inherently unpredictable, why should we then trust the economic projections the White House is making to sell other items on his domestic agenda? If his economic team was 2.5 million jobs off — and counting — in projecting unemployment just a few months into the future, how on earth can we trust their claims about all the money preventive care, information technology, and other such measures will save us on health care 10 or 20 years from now?