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White House report on economic stimulus rekindles debate five years later

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 14, 20
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 14, 20

By Steve Holland

RANCHO MIRAGE, California (Reuters) - President Barack Obama marked the five-year anniversary of a controversial economic stimulus plan by releasing a report on Monday saying that government spending averted a second Great Depression, setting off a new round of partisan debate about the decision.

Obama had been in office only a month when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus that Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives passed over the objections of Republicans.

Many Americans remain doubtful about how helpful the stimulus was for an economy that still struggles to recover from a deep recession that took hold in 2008.

The White House, eager to lay to rest those doubts, issued a five-year report that said the stimulus generated an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years through the end of 2012. (Report: http://r.reuters.com/xat86v)

The stimulus by itself raised the level of gross domestic product by between 2 percent and 3 percent from late 2009 through mid-2011, said the report, issued by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Jason Furman, chairman of the council, said the Recovery Act had a "substantial positive impact on the economy, helped to avert a second Great Depression, and made targeted investments that will pay dividends long after the act has fully phased out."

Republicans, who are attempting to oust Democrats from control of the Senate and build on their House majority in November elections, were quick to raise objections to the White House report.

House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican, said the stimulus turned out to be a classic case of "big promises and big spending with little results."

"Median household incomes are down. Prices on everything from gas to groceries are higher. A new normal of slow growth has set in, with most now saying the worst is yet to come," Boehner said in a statement.

The battle over the stimulus remains relevant today as Obama seeks congressional approval of infrastructure spending intended to create jobs.

"Five years later, the stimulus is no success to celebrate. It is a tragedy to lament," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in an opinion article for Reuters.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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