Sputtering Stimulus

Job numbers are terrible, and the recovery plan is delayed in the Senate.

The Change-o-Meter is now a widget. You can add it to your blog, Web site, or profile with just a few clicks (shortcut for Facebook here). Each time we publish a new column, the widget will automatically update to reflect the latest score.

Unemployment reaches a 16-year spike as the Senate continues to slash the price tag on the stimulus bill. Obama tinkers with Bush’s faith-based outreach office, but a controversial provision remains largely intact. Today’s score: 5 points on the Change-o-Meter.

The big news today is that the January jobless rate rose to 7.6 percent, and more Americans are now claiming unemployment benefits. With nearly 600,000 jobs axed in January, companies set a 25-year high, forcing nearly 626,000 first-timers to file for jobless claims. At this rate, help may come too little, too late, despite the stimulus promise to create millions of jobs coupled with Obama’s tag of an extra $25 to each unemployment check. The Change-o-Meter takes a dive with the steepest jobless rate since 1992.

The stimulus still sputters in a stall. The days of partisan cherry-picking continue as the Senate fails to negotiate in time for the stimulus bill’s expected Thursday vote. Despite Obama’s lofty vow to bring a new era of consensus to Washington, bipartisan support for the stimulus slipped throughout the day Thursday. As of Friday morning, a group of senators from both parties still stood at the chopping block, attempting to trim $100 billion from the $937 billion package, with state education taking the brunt of the cuts. With Congress continuing to tighten the belt a couple of notches over snug and Obama delivering a hard-hitting partisan speech to House Democrats in Virginia last night, it’s a leap in the wrong direction. Zero points.

While the stimulus debate drags on, Obama issued an executive order that overhauled the faith-based outreach office that George W. Bush established in the early days of his presidency. Obama’s initiative expands the office’s mission beyond just social work. One perk: Obama isn’t just reaching out to people of all religious faiths. He’s embracing nonbelievers, too, echoing a theme from his inaugural. Five points for that.

But contrary to indications he gave on the campaign trail, Obama did not revoke a controversial Bush policy on hiring. Under the old rules, federally backed faith-based programs were permitted to consider religious affiliation when hiring. Supporters say the rules allow organizations to maintain their religious identities, while opponents call it discrimination. Obama’s order calls for a case-by-case legal review, but because it failed to broadly address discrimination and overturn Bush’s contested policy, the Change-o-Meter will have to call it a wash.

There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.