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White House: Stimulus Had 'Undeniable' Impact on Economy

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs talks to reporters in Washington Feb. 17. (AP Photo)

The White House stood its ground Wednesday on the impact of the economic stimulus package, arguing that the bill signed a year ago has given an "undeniable" boost to the economy and that Republican critics are just playing politics. 

On the one-year anniversary of the bill's signing, President Obama said the $787 billion package saved 2 million jobs and helped prevent a "second depression." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that while many Americans have soured to the program, the bill is working and taxpayers will "absolutely" have a different outlook once it has had its full effect. 

Administration officials fanned out Wednesday to build the argument that the reason unemployment is still at 9.7 percent on the stimulus anniversary is because the jobs-building aspect of the program hasn't yet come into full force. 

Though the bill was originally pitched as a way to hold down unemployment, top officials now say the first year was meant to grow the overall economy while giving immediate relief to states and taxpayers. They attributed growth in the U.S. economy in the latter half of 2009 to the stimulus but said infrastructure spending in the coming year should help complement that growth with more jobs. 

"We are not going to have job growth in our economy unless or until we have positive economic growth," Gibbs said, calling the stimulus' impact on growing the GDP last year "undeniable." "So this ... was not a full cure for what ailed our economy. It is a way of putting people back to work, creating positive economic growth, and importantly, laying that foundation for long-term investments in jobs." 

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Vice President Biden, in an interview with CBS' "The Early Show," said the stimulus -- about one-third of which has been paid out -- was designed in "two stages." 

"We've only been halfway through the act," he said. "The job-creating portions are really loaded at the second half here and the major projects that are going to be being built." 

He said taxpayers have "gotten their money's worth." 

Republicans were not so optimistic. Republican National Committee Chairman called the claim that the bill has saved or created 2 million jobs "fiction" and said the administration was not focusing enough on the private sector. 

"This administration fundamentally doesn't understand that and the American people know it and they're responding in kind," Steele told Fox News. 

A recent CBS News/New York Times survey showed only 6 percent of Americans believe the stimulus has created a significant number of jobs. 

But White House economic adviser Christina Romer suggested that the best of the stimulus is yet to come. 

Asked Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" whether the "biggest bang" from the package has already been felt, Romer responded: "Absolutely not." 

She said more jobs creation is on the way. 

"Certainly in terms of the level of the things we care about, like employment and the unemployment rate, those effects are going to grow over time," she said. 

That appeared to be a turnaround from her testimony before Congress last October. 

At the time, Romer told the Joint Economic Committee that the recovery package would have its "greatest impact on growth" in the second and third quarters of 2009. By mid-2010, she said, the bill would be "contributing little" to growth. 

But back then, Romer and other White House officials were hard at work managing expectations as unemployment was climbing. Romer was also talking about GDP growth in that section of the testimony.