Lessons Learned from the Recovery Act

Lessons Learned from the Recovery Act

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Early last July, House Minority Leader John Boehner borrowed two bloodhounds and made a commercial entitled “Where are the Jobs?” He clearly got his answer this morning. Both the household and business surveys used by the Labor Department to gauge the employment situation showed solid job growth in March. The household survey now shows the economy has added more than a million jobs since Christmas.

There are several lessons in these numbers for those who care to learn them. The first is that the federal government can’t turn the U.S. economy around in six months any more than a battleship can be turned around in a bath tub. If Boehner had wanted to see job growth last July he should have supported the jobs bill that died in Congress the previous fall.

But there are lessons in this morning’s report for the White House and the majority party in Congress as well. Last year’s stimulus money is now surging through the economy at full force. And while the labor force is again growing, that growth is entirely attributable to government spending. The March report shows that hourly wages and hours worked are still falling, and it is quite clear that job growth is not strong enough to raise household incomes to levels that will sustain the recovery without additional help from the government.

Those numbers provide clear evidence that the original stimulus package passed by Congress early last year was not big enough, and that anyone interested in putting the economy on a path to sustained growth should be pushing for additional fiscal support now—not waiting as Boehner did until we are in the midst of a down draft. The $154 billion package the House passed last December would be a very good start. That plan or something akin to it might well get the support of a majority of senators, but as the health care legislation demonstrated, a majority is insufficient.

The nation is once again being forced down a policy path that is being determined by a minority of the members of one chamber of the national legislature. I am sure it’s too much to hope that those who continue to block the economic assistance necessary to sustain this recovery be held accountable when the recovery sputters—but it would be a better world were that to happen.

Scott Lilly is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Democratic clerk and staff director of  the House Appropriations Committee.

Scott Lilly is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP in 2004, he held a number of positions with Congress, including clerk and staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, executive director of the House Democratic Study Group and executive director of