Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President at a Middle Class Task Force Meeting in Denver, Colorado

May 26, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. How are you? (Applause.) What a crowd. (Applause.) Where's Gary Hart? Hey, Gare. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Gare, thanks for the passport. It's good to see you all.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joe Biden, and I brought along my special assistant, this beautiful redhead child here. It looks like she's this many, is that right -- two, almost?


THE VICE PRESIDENT: Will be three, excuse me -- will be three, and her mom said, she only knows one thing about you, Mr. Vice President, you're a friend of Barack Obama. (Laughter.)

I mean, when I was in the Senate, they used to say there's one thing they know about you, Senator, you're a friend of Gary Hart. (Laughter.) Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.

What I'd like to do -- I'm going to give you a little outline of what we're going to do here. I'm going to make a statement that's going to take about 10 or 12 minutes. And I'm going to introduce a lot of people here. It's going to take another 22 minutes. (Laughter.) But I do want you to know who came along with me from Washington.

Secretary Hilda Solis, I could hear by the thunderous applause they know Hilda is here. Secretary Donovan, the Secretary of Housing; former governor, and now, Secretary Vilsack, from Iowa, who is the head of the Department of Agriculture; U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, former mayor -- and he said that's the harder job -- I'm only kidding he didn't say that; and the Secretary of Energy, Dan Poneman, who is the Deputy Secretary; as well as, we have a group of experts who are not on the panel.

But I've said backstage that I'd like to invite them to participate when we get to questions if they'd be willing to do so. Van Jones, special advisor for Green Jobs and Enterprise, he is with the Council of Economic Advisors. I met Van, who you're going to see later, at the first one of these task forces I did in Philadelphia. And he was so impressive. Literally, I walked off the stage and said to my staff, why can't I hire him? And we did hire him. (Applause.)

And also, Blake Jones, who was kind enough -- you have to thank Blake for the air conditioning, because he put the solar panels on the roof up here. We were here when we announced the recovery package, and Blake was here representing his company and kicked the whole thing off. And it's great to see you again, Blake. I'm going to be asking him to chime in here, because he knows about creating jobs, and he knows about a green economy.

Also, Roby Roberts of Vestas is here. They are investing an awful lot of money in this state. They expect to invest over a billion and a half dollars in this state and ultimately, create 2,500 good, solid green jobs here.

Dr. Michele Haney of Red Rocks Community College is going to train everybody to do this. Right, Doc? And thank you for being here.

Tom Plant, Director of the Governor's Energy Office -- and I might add, the governor is doing an incredible job. I mean, this state is -- (applause) -- that is not a paid political announcement -- that is truly -- I mean, the way in which you're coordinating your energy efforts here in this state are really very remarkable. We're all over the country, and you should be very proud. And thanks for being here, Tom.

Mayor Hickenlooper is the man who almost caused my wife to want to move to Denver. (Laughter.) There you are, Mr. Mayor, good to see you.

Terry O'Sullivan, a good friend of mine, the president of the international laborers. Also, let me see -- I got to make sure I got everybody here -- Don Elliman is here. Don is for the state of Colorado -- the Office of Economic Development and International Trade -- he's going to be doing all the training here. I understand that -- oh, is Guy Runco here? Hey, Guy, how are you -- of the IBEW, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, local 68.

Who did I leave out? I think I have everyone here. Because when we get to some of the questions about how practically we are attempting to have this Middle Class Task Force function in the way that we generate from all the different sources of government and private industry the ability to create an economy for the 21st century, where middle-class people are actually going to have a shot to have sustainable jobs with a living wage that aren't exportable. These are the people actually doing it.

Now, I'm trying to think if I've left anybody out. I understand that Former Governor Roy Romer is here. Roy is somewhere. I introduced Gary Hart -- I didn't introduce him, but I referenced Gary. Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien I believe is here; Wellington Webb, former mayor; State Treasurer Cary Kennedy; State Senate President Brandon Shaffer; Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, and State Representative Beth McCann. I hope I got that. Hey, Beth, how are you? And one of the newest members who has become a good friend, Senator Michael Bennet is here as well, on the stage. (Applause.)

It's good to be back here. As I said, we announced our recovery package here. And since it tied so closely with the responsibility I've been given to deal with the Middle Class Task Force, as well as the President somewhat humorously refers to me as the "Sheriff," making sure that the $787 billion in this recovery package is spent well. The two jobs actually mesh.

So we're going to focus today on jobs for middle-class folks in the 21st century in a green economy and green jobs. And so as I said, it's good to be back here in this museum. And it's great to be talking "green" in a city that has been at the forefront of the movement since before it was fashionable; a city that I think will be among the cities that lead this country in this new century; a city that displays a fervor and a passion for environmental awareness that rivals the fervor and passion you all feel for the Lakers. I heard there was a game last night. (Laughter.) Joke, joke, joke. (Laughter.)

I'll tell you what, at two and two, Carmelo called me, asked me for some tips about what to do in L.A. (Laughter.) And I sent him to the President. I played football; he played basketball. But speaking of passion, there's a lot of passion for the Nuggets.

But, look, it's been nearly a hundred days ago that the President signed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act right here. And I'm proud to be back with you to take a look at how these investments are already, in our view, making life better for families and communities everywhere.

This is also the same goal, as I said, of our middle class Task Force -- to make sure that every American who aspires to the Middle Class can get there, and stay there when they get there. We have our work cut out for us on this question. We need to put everyone back to work to get everyone who's down on the ground back on his feet. And there always has been, which -- in the past, a basic bargain we had in this country, a bargain that has been, quite frankly, abrogated the last 15 or 20 years.

And that is that in this country, we said back in the '30s and '40s that those who were responsible for the increase in productivity in America would, and the prosperity it produces, would benefit from that prosperity. But between the years -- just to give you one example, between the years 2000 and 2070 [sic], productivity, that is the amount of effort our workers put in and how we got more bang for the buck with fewer people, the productivity in America increased nearly 20 percent.

Yet, during that same period, middle-class incomes actually fell -- they fell more than 3 percent. So the workers did their deal. Productivity increased. But middle-class Americans actually saw their share of the pie shrink by 3 percent. Folks, that's not acceptable. That's not the way this country is supposed to work. And we're about setting about to change that.

The President and I have set a very basic and measurable goal that we'll be held to, I'm sure. We said that our -- judge us in terms of our economic policy, not merely on whether or not the Gross Domestic Product begins to grow. That's not sufficient. But when middle-class incomes begin to grow, and when people aspiring to the middle class get a shot to become part of it -- that's the measure.

We could grow at 4 percent in a couple years, or later, even more than that. But if you leave a large swath of hard-working Americans behind, that is not an economic policy that is sustainable, in our view. But in order to do that, we need to reinvigorate our flagging manufacturing sector, usher in a new era of environmental efficiency, support small businesses that help the economy, and intensively rebuild our infrastructure.

Gary, I don't know whether you remember, but remember those breakfasts you used to put together on the Hill way back in the early '80s? This was the very subject you were talking about back then that you invited us to -- how we readjust an economy to a changing world.

Well, folks, we can't ignore what Gary was talking about 25 and 30 years ago. You see the fruits of ignoring what Gary was talking about, and others. But Gary was leading it back then.

We need to build a secure economic future for the 21st century, built on a different foundation than the great progress we made in the 20th century.

Ladies and gentlemen, we're on the edge of a very big shift, in my view. And this administration wants to make sure that our country is leading the way into this new global economy. So much of it hinges on our ability to create a new clean-energy economy.

To digress just a second, people say to the President and me, you're doing too much. Why don't you just get on with getting the economy moving again and don't try to create a new energy policy, a new education policy, a new -- how can we possibly lead in the 21st century without a fundamental change in our energy policy? How is that possible? We have no choice but to tackle this, for we know that when we do, the benefits are multifold, mainly as it predates to this Middle Class Task Force, it will create green jobs that will provide a springboard for many of the families that need to get to where they want to be.

Look, green jobs are good jobs. They pay -- according to the studies the administration and other have done -- 10 to 20 percent more, depending on the definition of a green job. And, with the Recovery Act, we're doing everything we can to make these jobs the foundation upon which our efforts to create 3.5 to 4 million jobs occurs. And that's a hard case to sell. We're going to lose more jobs this year. But most economists will point out to you, were we not taking this initiative we would have lost somewhere between 4 and 5 million additional jobs over the year. So we literally, we literally need this to staunch the bleeding, begin to rebuild not just jobs, but the kind of jobs we're going to be able to keep.

You know, in just about a hundred days of recovery we've already begun awarding $8 billion in Recovery Act funds to states for weatherization and energy efficiency programs. We announced significant Recovery Act investments in our energy future, including $2.4 billion in Recovery Act money to produce the next generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; $800 million to accelerate the use of biofuels and bring them to market; $300 million to expand the nation's fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles.

We've offered consumers new and expanded tax credits for installation of energy efficient or renewable energy systems in their homes, or for the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles. We've also outlined a strategic plan for developing a nationwide smart energy grid that will someday, someday put renewable energy sources within easy reach for homes and businesses all across America. It's not available now.

And the best part, building the clean energy economy not only puts us on a path of a green and more sustainable future, but it necessitates the jobs that will get us there -- good-paying jobs.

Promoting clean energy while creating incentives for polluters to clean up their act is going to create demand for renewable energy, generating jobs for workers at a pay scale they can live a middle-class life on: scientists, lab technicians and assistants, blue-collar workers building out the smart grid, green manufacturers who will build components for the new economy -- some of whom are here today.

All told, our energy investment will, on their own, create 450,000 new jobs.

Now, some of you might look at me and say, look, that all sounds good, but I've been working for decades on old-school manufacturing; my collar isn't green, it's a deep shade of blue. Well, when I say these things people come back and say -- Federico, I didn't see you there, Mr. Secretary. How are you? (Laughter.) Federico Pena -- they come back and say, look, I'm not prepared to do these jobs. I don't know how to do them. This is not going to help me very much at all.

Well, look, my response is I'll reinforce what we can't forget: We're building this together. To make these programs possible, government will increase funding for workforce education that incorporates green technology training. We've got to change. On that score, I'm thrilled to make a few announcements today.

First, Secretary Solis and Secretary Donovan will be joining forces to create pathways to training and employing for residents in low-income housing. Secretary Donovan tells me there's about 1.3 -- (applause) -- Secretary Donovan, by the way, is doing a great job and has considerable experience here, and is innovative as heck. He tells me on the way, on the plane, there's 1.8 million people living in public housing projects in need of jobs who are relatively young and are ready to work. And so what we're trying to do is through this new partnership, residents of public housing will be able to more easily find training programs and sustainable employment in the green job sectors.

As my evangelist will tell you in a minute, Mr. Jones, we're not just trying to make -- this is not a make-work job like a summer job program; this is to equip these people, give them a shot to end up with a sustainable job they can carry the rest of their life and not be living in public housing -- making a sustainable wage. (Applause.)

And additionally, Secretary Solis, with Secretary Donovan -- or, excuse me, Secretary Duncan over at the Department of Education, and Secretary Chu at the Department of Energy, are announcing today a partnership that will more seamlessly connect people to green jobs and the training they need to get these jobs, to be prepared for them. They're going to work together, and they're going to connect investments that create green jobs to training programs that give people the skills they need to get the job, then direct them to where the jobs are, building a workforce that's qualified to install and operate advanced clean energy and energy-efficient technologies. You're going to be doing a lot of that, Terry, your folks, and the IBEW -- a lot of other people are going to be doing it.

And finally, the Labor Department is announcing plans to release $500 million from the Recovery Act for grants -- and Hilda will talk about this in a little bit -- to prepare workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors, charting a course out of poverty for underserved communities and also providing $50 million in assistance for communities affected by the auto industry restructuring, because they need particular help, quite frankly.

Basically -- basically, what we're doing is making a major, major investment. We're investing heavily in people who are ready to work, want to work, need to work and are going to be able to provide for their families -- to ensure that they have the skills and the tools that they need to find and retain high-paying jobs that are going to flow from this green economy. And this has -- this is like geometry, not arithmetic. The more we invest in these areas, the more businesses invest, the more we create.

I was saying on the way out, we have a lot of money in this Recovery Act for high-speed rail. Everybody has always talked about high-speed rail. But, Mayor, it's amazing to know that you and a few others -- no one really had plans to do it. Now the money is there and all of a sudden it's like "build a better mousetrap." You got people out there. You got mayors getting together with governors funding corridors that they need. They're actually going out and figuring out how to condemn the property, move -- I mean, this is generating a whole new enthusiasm for high-speed rail.

I predict to you that that $13 billion over five years will generate well over $100 billion in investment in high -- the same thing here, the same thing. Look, our administration believes fiercely in the willingness and the capacity of American workers to work -- that's what they want to do. And we're going to give them the tools they need to succeed.

I understand there are a few of you who are in green-job training programs here in the audience. I'd love, when we get to the point, to hear about what you're learning, what you think about the program. Be straight with us -- if it's not working, we want to know. I don't want to own something that fails. We don't want to own anything that fails here. We want to make it work.

One question I hear often is: Are you going to build on the foundation laid by the Recovery Act to expand opportunities for green jobs? Well, that's why I've asked the Council of Economic Advisors and the Council on Environmental Quality to report back to this task force, which is sort of a -- it's not a Cabinet position, but it allows me to bring all the Cabinet members together to try to figure out what can they do over the next four years that hadn't been done in each of their departments that focuses on the middle class, everything from retirement security to education to creating these kinds of jobs that are sustainable.

And that task force, they're going to report back within 90 days with proposals to expand the opportunities by boosting energy savings for the middle class. As I said, Van Jones, who is a special advisor on green jobs, is going to lead that effort.

Look, folks, what we're doing with all this is simple -- we're leaving men and women like you with jobs that cannot be exported, jobs that will form the foundation for a 21st century economy. That's because this administration, the President and I, the Cabinet Secretaries -- we get it. We get that strengthening the middle class means making sure they are the primary builders of this new economy. We get it, that the future rests on our ability to give middle-class folks what they need to make a green economy a reality. So the bottom line here is we're here to get to that and to hear from you.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President at a Middle Class Task Force Meeting in Denver, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives