Silver Lining Hard to Find for Some on Anniversary of Stimulus

The United States of America owes $1.6 trillion more today than it did a year ago. The jobless rate has climbed from 8.1 percent to 9.7 percent. And the deficit has soared to record levels, with another record likely to be set this year.

Happy anniversary.

While the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are out in force this week touting the success of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, signed exactly one year ago, critics are pointing to a still-dismal jobs picture and deflating public confidence as signs that the ballyhooed benefits of the stimulus bill, as one GOP leader put it, were a "fiction." And certainly not worth the cost.

President Obama and Vice President Biden argued Wednesday that the stimulus has saved or created 2 million jobs.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called that estimate "nonsense."

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"I don't know what that is. I don't know what that looks like. If I can't put my fingers on it, if I can't touch it and if I can't get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and go to work there, then it's not happening, and that's the reality of a lot of people right now," Steele told Fox News.

While employers are shedding far fewer jobs than they were last year, the stimulus hasn't jolted hiring in the way it was  advertised -- 49 states saw a net job loss in 2009, according to recent statistics. It's also contributed to record debt and deficits -- the national debt has reached nearly $12.4 trillion, while this fiscal year's deficit is expected to hit about $1.6 trillion. At the same time, President Obama is creating a panel to study ways to bring those numbers down.

The public is losing faith. 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 here's the good news: The national economy as a whole is growing, a strong sign that the nation is not sliding back into recession. The jobless rate has pulled back from a high of 10.2 percent. Advocates of the stimulus argue that while unemployment is bad, the situation is better than it would have been without the stimulus -- a claim that can neither be proved nor disproved -- and that Republicans are talking out of both sides of their mouths, railing against the package while reaping its benefits in their home states.

"We acted because failure to do so would have led to catastrophe," Obama said Wednesday. "One year later, it is largely thanks to the recovery act that a second depression is no longer a possibility."

Biden said Wednesday on CBS' "The Early Show" that the package is only "halfway" done. Christina Romer, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that state aid, a huge part of the package, has kept hundreds of thousands of state workers on the payroll and that the next step is to "translate" the GDP growth into more jobs. She and Biden both predict job growth by spring.

"We've seen a dramatic turnaround in this economy in the last year," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine told Fox News on Wednesday. "We're not where we want to be yet, but it's great that we were able to ... stop the freefall in jobs."

But positive GDP growth isn't exactly the kind of thing that outside-the-Beltway Americans are going to notice on a day-to-day basis. Home values, 401k's, jobs and other real-world indicators are the proof many are looking for. While the stock market is back from the rock-bottom lows of early 2009, it's far from where it was before the crisis on Wall Street.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Wednesday that the first anniversary of the stimulus is nothing to celebrate.

"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," he said. "This was not the plan Americans asked for or the results they were promised."