WASHINGTON - Trumpeting economic progress to a skeptical nation, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden says the massive government program intended to stimulate and reshape the economy is reaching and exceeding goals.
Nearly 200 days into the effort, Biden says it is more effective "than we had hoped."
Biden's upbeat report card, to be delivered Thursday in a speech at the Brookings Institution, comes as economists say the United States is slowly breaking free of the most crippling recession in decades. Yet public angst is also deepening about the cost of government intervention, and millions of people remain out of work.
At the heart of President Barack Obama's agenda for an economic turnaround is the $787 billion package he signed into law on Feb. 17. The effectiveness of the two-year program is a matter of sharp political debate; Biden, the administration's point man on the issue, is aiming to show a restless public that results are tangible.
"Recovery act dollars are going farther and working harder than we anticipated," Biden said in excerpts released in advance by his office.
With Obama on vacation at the Camp David presidential retreat, the White House hopes Biden's message will get through on perhaps a quieter news day. Biden is up against a wary audience when he says "the recovery act is doing more, faster, more efficiently and more effectively than we had hoped."
A Gallup poll last month found 51 per cent of Americans wished the government had spent less to stimulate the economy. The same poll found 41 per cent thought the stimulus package was helping the economy in the short term; 33 per cent saw no effect; and 24 per cent said it was making the economy worse.
Citing a scorecard, Biden says that over the past 100 days, using stimulus money, the administration has met its goals of paying for 135,000 education jobs and hiring or keeping 5,000 police. Other goals have been exceeded, he said, from the number of highway projects to new water systems to health centres.
The stimulus package is a mix of tax cuts, increased spending on Medicaid and huge investments in infrastructure, education, energy projects and more.
"One of the criticisms of the recovery act is that it is simply a grab bag of different programs," Biden said. "But the fact that the recovery act is multifaceted doesn't reflect a lack of design. It is the design. Our economy is so complex and so wounded that reinvigorating one segment alone - or using one tool alone - would never do all that needs to be done."
The vice-president's appearance is part of a concerted White House push in advance of the 200th day of the stimulus act on Saturday. Five top administration officials plan to speak about the law's benefits on Thursday in appearances in Arkansas, Virginia, Illinois, California and Minnesota.
Public approval of Obama's performance and of his handling of the economy has slipped. Polls now put both figures slightly above 50 per cent.
The White House wants people to take a longer view. A string of indicators show the economy is recovering, but many people are hurting financially.
"Our goal is not just to emerge from the recession. We will," Biden said. "That's not enough. We must emerge stronger than we were before we entered it."