A journalist investigates the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, seeking to determine whether the Obama administration’s effort to ameliorate the previous administration’s economic recession has been performing as hoped.
ProPublica reporter Grabell began the book after hearing Joe Biden present a speech seven months after Congressional Democrats approved the law without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and nearly zero support in the Senate. Because the stimulus involved so much money scattered over so many government programs, Grabell decided to go broad instead of deep in the narrative. He does, however, dig deep in regards to three portions of the stimulus package: providing new jobs in Elkhart, Ind., after the collapse of industry there; the cleanup of an aging nuclear power plant in Aiken, S.C.; and the manufacturing of solar panels in Fremont, Calif., as part of a concerted effort to reduce air pollution across the nation. Some of Grabell's saga is necessarily grounded in previously reported partisan politics, as the newly elected president realized his Republican opposition seemed to be placing his hoped-for election defeat in 2012 above any nonpartisanship that might create new jobs and save existing ones. The author explains how the Republican strategy of fierce opposition led to its takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election. Wisely, though, Grabell devotes much of the narrative to state and local government officials, including K-12 educators, who have been trying to determine how to obtain and wisely spend dollars from the stimulus package. The author concludes that Obama and his team succeeded in saving lots of jobs and creating a modest number of new jobs, but that the Democrats oversold the impact of the stimulus.
A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because the stimulus package remains a work in progress.