On June 17, 2010, the White House and top congressional Democrats launched "Recovery Summer" with great fanfare. It was a weeks-long bid to convince the nation that the American Recovery Act — the stimulus bill — was already turning the economy around.
Two years on, with job growth stalling, it is clear that wasn't happening and Democrats now hope the whole thing is quietly forgotten about. No Democratic leader's office responded to a request for comment on this story.
In a press conference Friday on the economy, President Obama never cited the "Recovery Summer" and instead blamed congressional Republicans for not passing his latest stimulus plan. He argued that state and local governments need it since the private sector was "doing fine.
Mitt Romney and Republicans pounced on that remark. Obama later backtracked, conceding that the economy "is not doing fine.
The uncelebrated anniversary underscores the Democrats' political problem: While they still largely blame the Bush administration for the weak economy, they've had time enough to make changes and spend lots of money — and they haven't gotten results .
The 2010 effort was headed by Vice President Joe Biden. He was unequivocal at the time about the stimulus bill's impact.
"We have turned this economy around," Biden said. "Instead of falling off the abyss, it is on firm ground. It is heading in the right direction. And every aspect of the economy is growing.
Cabinet members fanned out across the country to regional events to tout stimulus projects. Congressional Democrats hosted town meetings in their districts.
Biden visited a Dow Kokam battery facility in Midland, Mich., on June 21. It had received a $161 million stimulus grant to build batteries for electric cars. The White House said the funding would create 800 full-time jobs.
"Innovation: That's how we'll bring the recovery back," Biden said at the event.
Today, the plant employs just 95 people, says spokeswoman Angela Coletti.
"We have plans to expand the facility to 320 people," she said. She didn't give a time frame, but said Dow Kokam was optimistic it could happen by year-end.
But electric car sales remain tiny with scant growth despite generous subsidies. As it stands now, the federal investment in the Midland plant has worked out to about $1.7 million per job.
Adam Hersh, an economist with the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, says the administration had a case in 2010.
"There were all the signs a recovery was under way," he said. "And we are still recovering and growing, (just) not nearly as fast as we could be.
Various factors, from the end of stimulus spending to congressional gridlock and international turmoil, hurt the expansion, he said.
Big Spending, Small Growth Overall, stimulus results have been lackluster. To date, $840 billion has been spent on everything from grants to industry, infrastructure projects, payments to state and local governments and tax incentives for businesses. Yet the economy remains sluggish.
The economy had grown by a 3.8% annual rate in Q2 2010 as stimulus funding kicked in, but it didn't last. GDP growth slowed to 2.5% in Q3 2010 and 2.4% in Q4. It averaged 1.7% in 2011 and rose at a 1.9% pace in Q1 2012.
Average annual U.S. growth from 1947 to 2007 was 3.4%.
Unemployment has fallen from 9.7% in June 2010 to 8.2% in May, but the administration had predicted it would be below 6% by now. The true picture is even worse, because the jobless rate excludes the huge number of people who have left the workforce. Actual employment rates are near multi-decade lows.
Conservative critics of the administration argue this ought to undercut their claims to be better able to handle the economy.
"That they said we were going to have the recovery means they truly believed that their plans would work and none of them has ever stood and said, 'They didn't and we've learned,'" said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist. "So you know this is going to be their approach to all future crises."Related StoryPrivate Jobs Down 4.6 Million From January 2008; Federal Jobs Up 11.4%