WASHINGTON – Could it work? That’s the question being asked about President Obama’s big new jobs plan. Independent experts answered Friday with a qualified yes.

The American Jobs Act would create jobs and help keep a struggling economy moving forward, said a number of economists. But they cautioned that it wouldn’t shift the nation’s business gears into overdrive, and it offers only modest benefits, given the headwinds the economy faces from a moribund housing sector and growing financial turmoil in Europe.

As only a short-term stimulus plan, the American Jobs Act wouldn’t address structural and external problems holding back the U.S. economy. Macroeconomic Advisers, a leading economic forecast group, projected that Obama’s plan “would give a significant boost to (the gross domestic product) and employment over the near term.”

There’s the rub. Obama’s plan aims to deliver only a short-term fix to keep the economy moving forward and avoid falling back into recession.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists, in a research note Friday, estimated the American Jobs Act could add between 1 and 1.5 percentage points to economic growth next year. They also noted that for every percentage point of growth, the jobless rate falls by three-tenths of a percentage point.

“If that holds, we would see the unemployment averaging 8.6 percent by the end of 2012, instead of 8.9 percent,” said the economists.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for forecaster Moody’s Analytics, envisioned 1.9 million jobs created if the plan passes as proposed, something he considers unlikely. However, about 40 percent of the jobs — 750,000 — would come from the payroll tax holiday provisions alone.

Zandi noted that benefits from the Obama plan wouldn’t be lasting ones.

“The plan also results in weaker growth in 2013, as most of the tax cuts and spending increases are temporary and fade during the year,” he said. “Presumably the economy will be strong enough to handle it by then, but that is far from certain.”

That’s important, because there’s no guarantee hiring and growth associated with the plan would be permanent. In fact, it’s one reason for the negative public view on previous federal stimulus efforts, various programs such as “Cash for Clunkers” to stimulate auto purchases, and a first-time homebuyer tax credit. These efforts provided a spark, but it proved temporary.

“Businesses repeatedly see that, so they respond to it in a temporary way,” said Martin Regalia, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It does help temporarily maintain or boost demand because it puts more spendable money in people’s pockets, and some of that will be spent. If all you want to do is boost the growth rates for next year, this will probably do that.”

The chamber wanted a focus on the energy sector, where relaxation of rules could put people to work immediately, and more support for international trade, including passage of pending free-trade agreements.

Another reason support for Obama’s plan is hedged among experts: There’s little to fix the housing sector, a huge drag on the economy. Obama talked about encouraging mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance home loans to lower interest rates, but he gave few details.