WASHINGTON -- For a president who promised that his actions would be the most transparent in U.S. history, key details in Barack Obama's economic-stimulus program have been frustratingly opaque.
Some might call them invisible or illusionary, certainly slippery, maybe even tricky.
"Does anyone really know how many jobs the stimulus has saved or created? Does anyone know how much stimulus money has actually been spent?" House Republicans asked Monday.
Not with any precision. President Obama and his administration throw out a lot of big, impressive numbers: We will spend $800 billion to "save or create" 3.5 million jobs. But it turns out the numbers and goals often come with a lot of mathematical caveats, definitional contingencies and narrowly proscribed, convoluted loopholes and escape hatches.
"The truth is, even the Obama administration isn't able to say for sure how many jobs the stimulus is saving and/or creating," ABC News bluntly reported last week.
"With its promises to 'save or create'" so many jobs, the news network said, "the Obama White House has set a fuzzy bar for itself; no one will ever really be able to say whether it's been cleared."
Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist Jared Bernstein says it's impossible to say how many projects approved by the administration have really gotten under way because "it's such a moving target."
For example, take the jobs number. The White House said at the end of May that the program had saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs. But that's almost impossible to verify because the jobs calculation is actually based on estimates of how poorly the economy and the jobs picture might have been if the stimulus had not been enacted.
And what about this so-called "saved jobs" concept? That's a very tricky number open to all kinds of mathematical Ponzi-scheme configurations.
"The country has lost 1.3 million jobs since February, a figure the Obama administration says would have been far higher if not for the recovery effort," wrote White House reporter Charles Babington of the Associated Press. Apparently, you can save all kinds of jobs with that kind of soft math.
So what about that 150,000-jobs number? It turns out that these are not necessarily long-term, full-time jobs. Many, if not most, will end when the public-works money runs out and the project is completed.