Soledad O'Brien Defends Stimulus: 'Didn't That to a Large Degree Help the Economy?'

CNN's Soledad O'Brien defended the stimulus bill on Monday's Starting Point, calling it a "big thing" that President Obama accomplished and adding that police officers and firefighters kept their jobs because of it.

"[I]f the stimulus hadn't been passed, then what would have happened to the economy?" she threw a Democratic talking point at Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Tex.). "Didn't that to a large degree help the economy? You're not going to argue certainly that it didn't?"

"And I think there are firefighters and teachers and police officers whose jobs were kept, would not have had jobs, whose jobs were kept because of the stimulus," she argued. "I think you could – we could do an entire two-hour debate on the stimulus."

O'Brien's arguments stood out in her two interviews about Newsweek's new cover attacking Obama. She asked tough questions of both Burgess and her Democratic guest Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), but her stimulus defense left no room for dissent.

And she's stood up for the stimulus before. Back in June O'Brien asked if there should be another stimulus. She cited a survey that was used by a Democratic-appointed CBO director to defend the stimulus, and asked the question of President Obama's deputy campaign manager.

"So, is the takeaway from this, the stimulus worked, so there should be another stimulus?" O'Brien asked after tossing Stephanie Cutter a Democratic talking point.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on August 20 on Starting Point, is as follows:

[7:05]

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Meantime, the cover of Newsweek is saying, "Hit the Road, Barack: Why we need a new President." And of course, that's stirring up a few flames, isn't it? Joining us this morning to talk about all of that is Congressman Mike Burgess, he's a Republican from Texas, he's the chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus, he's a doctor as well. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We certainly appreciate it. Let's talk a little bit about –

Rep. MIKE BURGESS, (R-Tex.): Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, good morning to you. This Niall Ferguson story, it's the cover story in Newsweek, and I don't know if you had a chance to read it yet, but the headline's pretty straight forward. It's called "Hit the Road, Barack: Why we need a new President." So you can imagine where it goes from there. His basic gist is that President Obama has not kept his promises. Paul Krugman has a blog pointing out what he calls some of the factual errors in it.

But his gist is there were promises, they haven't been kept up. And he writes this: "In his inaugural address, Obama promised to 'not only to create jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.' He promised to 'build roads and bridges, the electric grids, the digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together'. He promised to 'restore science to its rightful place, wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs.' He promised to 'transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age'. Unfortunately, the President's score card on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful."

That's just a little chunk, but the gist of the entire article is kind of like that. Some people would say, completely unfair assessment when you look some of the numbers, for example. Inherited a 7.8 unemployment rate, went down to 10 unemployment rate in October of 2009. Do you think that's a fair criticism of him, sir?

BURGESS: Well, you know, you go back to the first two years of this administration and you just, as a member of the minority who really couldn't affect much, you just really had to wonder, where was the laser-like focus that, say, a Bill Clinton would have put on the economy? We had an administration that was doing everything under the sun but being concerned about jobs, after making those promises in the inaugural address. We watched in the Joint Economic Committee, members of the President's team come in, Christina Romer, Lawrence Summers, and honestly they seemed lost at sea.

(Crosstalk)

O'BRIEN: The stimulus passed immediately. Wasn't that one of the first things that happened? The stimulus was a big thing he got done.

BURGESS: The stimulus passed, and what have we found out in the years since then? Some of these projects like Solyndra where dollars were literally flowing out the door to people that had no business receiving the money. And then obviously when the company couldn't make it, the administration subordinated taxpayer loans to venture capitalists, which was in direct violation of the law.

O'BRIEN: And I think there are firefighters and teachers and police officers whose jobs were kept, would not have had jobs, whose jobs were kept because of the stimulus. I think you could – we could do an entire two-hour debate on the stimulus. We certainly don't have time for that this morning.

BURGESS: But you had things like "Cash for Clunkers" and putting caulk in people's windows that honestly had nothing to do with rebuilding the economy. And these things almost seemed to be payoffs to people that had supported the President during his 2008 campaign. There were much better ways to go about this doing this. Mr. Oberstar, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, begged for more funding to go into infrastructure, and he got about seven percent of that trillion dollar stimulus bill. It actually – if you're going to borrow money like that, do it for capital improvements, not for operational expenses.

O'BRIEN: But if they hadn't – so let's do the reverse about it – if the stimulus hadn't been passed, then what would have happened to the economy? Didn't that to a large degree help the economy? You're not going to argue certainly that it didn't?

BURGESS: I don't think that it did. And you look at some of the projects that were started during that time, and they really did not seem to be designed to improve the economy. The other aspect that was unfortunate during those first two years is they spent so much time, the administration spent so much time trying to link health care to the economy, and in order to get the President's health care law passed. But honestly when you look back at it, this has been one of the things that has inhibited the recovery. It's been a wet blanket on job creation and honestly is still a problem today two and a half years later, billions of dollars spent on implementation –

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you a que – I'm sorry. Forgive me, I just want to understand what you're – you're saying the stimulus has been a wet blanket on job creation, you think the stimulus had slowed --

BURGESS: The Affordable Care Act was a wet blanket on job creation, and it was a parallel track with the stimulus, the cap and trade bill and the financial reg bill. All of those things were pushed by the President in the first year and a half of his administration.
 

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center