COLUMBUS, Ohio - While aknowledging an "astounding" number of job losses in February, President Barack Obama told critics of his $787 billion economic recovery plan Friday that it is saving jobs and said, "I know we did the right thing."
He suggested that critics talk to 25 police recruits in Ohio's capital city who owe their jobs to stimulus spending and "talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan."
During a graduation ceremony for the police recruits, he also noted "the nurses who are still able to care for our sick and the firefighters and first responders who are still able to keep our communities safe."
News that 651,000 jobs were lost in February brings to "an astounding 4.4 million" the number of jobs lost since the recession began, Obama said. The unemployment rate spiked to 8.1 percent.
But Obama touted the 114th police recruit class as proof that the stimulus plan, which drew scant Republican support in Congress, is paying dividends.
"I look at these young men and women, I look into their eyes and I see their badges today, and I know we did the right thing," Obama said, the recruits seated behind him on stage.
He said the police recruits had faced a future of joblessness, the same "future that millions of Americans still face right now."
"Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America," Obama said, explaining why he signed the stimulus bill on Feb. 17.
The recruit class was laid off in January before they could even start walking the beat. Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, blamed city budget problems.
But last week Coleman announced that the Justice Department had told the city it would get $1.25 million in stimulus funds to cover the officers' salaries through Dec. 31.
The recruits were rehired using money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. The stimulus bill included $2 billion for that program, and the money is being delivered to local departments by a predetermined formula.
Breann Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Rep. Pat Tiberi, one of eight Ohio Republicans who voted against the stimulus, noted that the money that saved the recruits' job will run out next year. Coleman hasn't said how he'll pay the officers' salaries after that.
Gonzalez said Tiberi "is thrilled" that these officers were hired, but that the question of how to pay for them will confront the city again come January.
"This stimulus represents a very temporary solution to an even larger problem," she said.
The trip was Obama's first as president to Ohio, which he won in the November election.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett and Matt Apuzzo in Washington and Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.