By the end of August, the White House had settled on a package of $375 billion. It was a mix of tax cuts and fresh government spending on efforts such as teacher aid and building roads and bridges. Sperling also included, at the president’s direction, a program to rebuild foreclosure-beaten neighborhoods, even if the idea wasn’t likely to create many jobs across the country.
“Oftentimes, there’s been an assumption that all proposals need to be more focused on the macroeconomic state,” said Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development. “One of the things that Gene brought to the discussion was that there is a set of things we can do that are going to help the hardest-hit places.”
On Sept. 2, it became clear that even $375 billion was not enough. Sperling and Katharine Abraham, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, walked into the Oval Office and handed a sheet of paper to the president. “0,” it said, on the line listing the number of jobs created the previous month. Obama — called “President Zero” by opponents later that day — was surprised.