Obama Spins New Stimulus Spending Line into the WSJ

The Journal this morning regurgitates some abject spin from the White House on the economy.

It’s clearly part of a PR offensive by the Obama administration to regain some ground after recent criticisms that his ginormous stimulus plan isn’t helping the economy. Only $60 billion of the $500 billion in stimulus spending (another $288 billion was spent on tax cuts) has been spent so far and unemployment is far outpacing the administration’s earlier predictions.

So, despite the fact that the president’s plan clearly states that it would take several months to get going and that much of the spending wouldn’t even be this year, the administration’s spin now is that it’s pushing it out the door faster than expected.

The Journal swallows that pretty much uncritically. Here’s its headline:

Stimulus Aid Is Said to Be Moving Faster

“Is Said,” huh? By whom? First words of the story:

The Obama administration says…


…it has been on a “learning curve” with the economic-stimulus package but has now figured out how to spend some of the available billions more quickly.

How’s it been doing that?

The White House told agencies to find ways to cut red tape, both for making large transfer payments to states and running big competitions for grants. Agencies were also instructed to work more closely with states to help them spend the money once they received it.

Sounds like a bunch of political boilerplate to me. This is the point in time when the money was really supposed to start flooding out anyway. So now Obama gets credit for slashing red tape?

Here’s the one anecdote we get:

The Department of Education, for example, scrapped the idea of giving $8.8 billion of general aid to states in two phases and decided to send them all the money after their application was approved.

Well, what genius had it divided into two phases in the first place? Oh, and another anecdote: The Defense Department set more aggressive targets for its spending. Whoopee.

Look, it’s not easy to spend $500 billion quickly—even for the government (unless it wants to bail out some banks or something). It may be politically inexpedient, but it’s just a fact. And if the government is tens of billions of dollars faster, might the Journal want to point out that would seemingly increase the risk of wasteful and/or fraudulent spending?

It’s a move by the White House to shift the framing of the story from “the stimulus isn’t moving fast enough” to “Obama is pushing the stimulus out faster.” But still, the story remains: “The stimulus isn’t moving fast enough.”

But the Journal here just plays along.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.