Are the stimulus funds working? It depends on who's talking.
The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better know as the stimulus package, has created a lot of interest and controversy in the five months since President Barack Obama signed it into law.
South Carolina's elected officials staked out their positions on why the stimulus cash will or won't help South Carolina climb out of the recession. The responses to the question, "Is it working?" fall mostly along party lines.
Clemson University political science professor and Republican consultant David Woodard said the answer goes to the core of party philosophy and is an age-old economic debate: Does public spending create good jobs?
"The real judgment is, how it's doing? We still don't know," Woodard said.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat, said the evidence that the stimulus is working is found all around the city.
"I think they should believe the employees I met that were reroofing the public housing (buildings) or the employees working to build a new community center or the employees working on a myriad of highway projects across South Carolina" or the families who have more police protection, he said.
"Listen to the people who are being helped."
Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, a Republican, was charged by the governor to provide oversight of the stimulus cash. From where he's sitting, Washington's "record-shattering spending spree" isn't living up to the promises.
"From the outset, many reasonable people wisely questioned the message coming from the White House that the stimulus would immediately turn the economy around and keepunemployment below 8 percent," Eckstrom said. "But since then, the unemployment rate has climbed to 9.5 percent, a 26-year high."
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, both South Carolina Republicans, said the problem came with the way the partisan bill was crafted.
Graham said half the debt from this legislation that will saddle future generations isn't even tied to new jobs. The debt it creates will be a drag on the economy for at least the next five years, Graham said.
"I don't believe it was the right answer to our economic woes," Graham said. "We needed a stimulus package to create jobs."
The government should improve the housing market with tax credits and incentives because that's a big part of what caused the economic mess, Graham said. Also, he added, the "government takeover of health care" needs to be stopped, and small businesses need to receive target tax cuts.
Brown said the stimulus package has too much red tape and fails to offer fast-acting tax relief.
"Ultimately, I believe that the stimulus has failed to offer relief to the working-class Americans who need it the most, and my constituents and folks throughout South Carolina, a state with 12 percent unemployment, the third-highest in the nation, are asking, 'Where are the jobs?' " Brown said.
U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, wielded his influence as the third-ranking leader in Congress to design the stimulus package and make sure it reached the president's desk.
"I think when people talk about what the job unemployment numbers are in South Carolina as evidence that it ain't working, you ought to ask some of these teachers who had already received pink slips that got torn up when the money came," Clyburn said. "I don't know what the unemployment rate would have been without it."