Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg

February 11, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for coming out today. And it's good to be back in my home state of Pennsylvania. I'm from up the line a little bit in Scranton. And I'd like to thank Governor Rendell not only for being here, but for his leadership. You Pennsylvania reporters should know, and this is literally the case, that he has been the single strongest voice for this economic package -- particular stimulus package relating to infrastructure.

The Governor came out to Chicago in the transition offices and in Washington in the transition offices I believe in early November. We had gotten elected, I think it was the seventh, and it was -- but then within a couple of days that the Governor was talking to me and talking to the President-elect, then. And he got together with a couple of other governors, and he laid out a very, very detailed -- they laid out with his leadership a very detailed plan as to how we can get the economy moving again, create jobs and -- and begin to build an infrastructure for the 21st century, which is -- it's not just -- Pennsylvania, because it's one of the great and older states, is a little bit more in need because of what the Governor talked about, the age of the bridges, the miles of highway, et cetera -- but this is the case all across America.

And if you ever wonder why we lose business abroad, it's not just the tax structure, it's not just cheaper labor. If you can transport your product from manufacturing to the location that export and/or domestic sales cheaper, you're going to do it. So, the fact of the matter is infrastructure matters a lot, more than just what I'm going to talk about, the jobs that it will create.

Many of the ideas that ultimately ended up in this economic recovery and reinvestment package that's currently going through Congress was literally -- literally the Governor's. And I'm not being solicitous because he's my friend. That's literally -- literally true. And I believe it's what's going to get our economy moving again.

I also wanted to pay special tribute to Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, who have both made a gigantic difference in -- as we speak, my estimate is we are an hour and a half away from a conference making a final judgment on the final -- final bill. And as my grandfather from Scranton used to say, "God willing and the creek not rising," we are going to have this bill, hopefully, today. But at least that's my hope.

And so both Senator Specter and Casey deserve a lot of credit. And again, I know you -- this is the usual mutual admiration society stuff -- but Tim -- Tim has done an incredible job. I mean, his position in the House, his seniority has made a big difference in the shape and formation of the bill that came out of the House as it relates to the very things we're talking about. So I just want to thank Tim Holden for being here, as well.

I don't think anyone looking at what's going on in the economy can have any doubt about the depth of the problem we're facing. We're long past that debate. We had that debate in October, November, January -- we're way beyond that debate. Just last month, in one month we lost 600,000 jobs in America. And all the evidence is that job loss is accelerating -- accelerating, not decreasing, not slowing down. So we need to act, and we need to act now. And I hope we're going to act today. We need answers that are as big and as bold as the problem is big and troublesome. And we need -- we need them now in order for us to be able to keep this economy from really continuing to spiral downward.

It has to be of the size and the scope, as President Obama said, that's up to the problem we're facing. And I believe our plan is. Our economic plan will save, depending on the final numbers in the conference, between 3.5 and 4 million jobs -- 150,000 jobs -- 150,000 jobs right here in the state of Pennsylvania.

But let me tell you what will not work. What will not work is us failing to act -- failing to act, and failing to act with the scope we're talking about now. The old ways in deciding that all you got to do is cut tax breaks for the top tier and everything is going to work out -- that is simply -- does not work. It's failed. It's a failed policy. And now is not the time -- that's not to say, by the way, tax breaks don't matter. Part of the tax breaks can matter a lot. And we in this -- in this stimulus package, we target people that need it the most, and will, in fact, have the most direct impact on spending it, and that's the middle class.

The tax breaks that we have and proposed go to people who are most likely to spend the money now to create jobs by creating demand. And that's what we've done. Just take a look at what we call our Make Work Pay tax cut. It's tax relief for the middle class -- 100 million Americans are going to benefit from it; 4.9 million people in the state of Pennsylvania will get this tax cut. And what it means, it means that it frees up -- this tax break -- $600 billion in the state of Pennsylvania. It's a little bit like if the Governor were able to pass, or the legislature, the Speaker able to pass a $600 billion tax cut. That's the effect in the state of Pennsylvania of our Make Work Pay tax cut.

And it could make a big difference, not just in Pennsylvania, as the illustration, but nationwide. It's the kind of tax relief that makes sense because it's quick and it's stimulative. You're not going to be waiting around for another year for this money to get into the marketplace, into the economy. In addition to this targeted tax relief, our plan also extends unemployment benefits, and it makes it possible for people to keep their health care coverage when they've lost their job.

Now, translate that again into Pennsylvania. It means, Governor, that an additional stimulus right away -- over this year, I should say -- of $1 billion -- $1 billion coming into the pockets of Pennsylvanians who are unemployed by extending their unemployment benefits. And that means people are going to spend that money. They're going to create jobs. They're going to keep the local sandwich shop open. They're going to be able to make sure the barbershop still functions. They're going to be able to make sure that the economy continues. It's a billion dollar stimulus into the state.

In addition to that, the food stamps proposal we have, which I believe will survive the conference, again means roughly a billion dollars to the state of Pennsylvania -- a billion dollars going into the -- into the pockets of people in the state of Pennsylvania, which will be spent -- spent at grocery stores, spent to keep the economy going.

We have a weatherization program in this project. We're going to weatherize 2 million homes. And that means right here in Pennsylvania, the estimate of people whose homes who have --make less than -- less than 150 -- up to 150 percent above the poverty rate, which is roughly 40 -- excuse me, $31,000 rough -- that means that those folks will have their homes weatherized. It means that the savings in a yearly basis for them in heating their homes in the state of Pennsylvania will be roughly $350 for the year.

But what else it does, it means it significantly reduces our consumption of energy. The single fastest way for us to reduce importation and consumption is weatherization. We weatherize, for example, 75 percent of the federal buildings in the United States of America. We set up a new funneling capability for a smart grid so we can transport wind and solar. We provide for smart meters on millions of homes across America, allowing them to save money -- all related to not only -- not only the direct economic impact, making it easier to do -- cheaper to do business, cheaper to heat your home, cheaper to heat the building -- but a reduction, a reduction in importation of oil.

And for those folks who are struggling to pay tuition costs, like they are in my state in Pennsylvania and many others, they will provide up to a $2,500 tax credit -- tax credit. It's off your bottom line. And -- but this isn't enough. We need to make direct investment. Direct investment will flow really quickly in direct expenditures of dollars in the crumbling infrastructure. Look at this chart right here to the Governor's right -- it lays it out more clearly than my speech to you. With regard to bridges, safety, pavement resurfacing -- that's up to 900 miles in re-paving -- congested management -- a total of $1.5 billion coming into the state, which will produce 45,270 jobs right here.

And by the way, this is -- this is a down payment on, along with the smart grid and our energy projects and renewable energy -- a down payment on a 21st century infrastructure -- a 21st century infrastructure. And, folks, look, it means that it's going to also -- it's also going to have a long-term rippling effect on the willingness of folks to do business here in the state of Pennsylvania and in other states, rather than go abroad or go to another state.

If we have the best possible roads and bridges, transit systems, sewer and water systems in the world, and a modern renewable energy system, then business is going to be more competitive. They're going to stay in America, they're going to stay in Pennsylvania.

We make long-overdue investments, as I said -- and I won't go into the detail of the smart grid and the smart metering, weatherization, renewable energy -- but if you look at the direct investments -- the direct investments that are being made in the infrastructure as laid out here for the state of Pennsylvania, for example, 428 bridges in this state being repaired and up to snuff within the next six to 18 months is a big deal. And you've got $400 million to do just that. And the list goes on.

The bottom line here is, and it's not just this $1.5 billion -- if you add up all the money that will come into this state of Pennsylvania to help its economy, in terms of tax breaks, food stamps, weatherization, the program we have to give direct assistance to local school districts, localities in the state, you're talking about -- and the finite number I can't give you because the conference isn't finished yet -- but I estimate to you will be somewhere in excess of $16 billion of economic stimulus that will come into the state of Pennsylvania and will be spent out in the state of Pennsylvania within the next -- within the next 12 to 18 months. And that includes money for -- a quarter billion dollars for transit and $200 million in the state for clean water.

So, 90 percent of the jobs that are created by this plan, I want to remind everybody, are private sector jobs. Now, there will be jobs saved, because we have money in here for cops. We have money in here for direct assistance, so you don't have to lay off -- localities -- lay off school teachers, lay off law enforcement, et cetera. They are -- they are state or local jobs. But 90 percent of these jobs -- their jobs are really saving, as opposed to recreating -- but 90 percent of it is private -- this is private. You're going to go out and hire the contractor to build the roads. You're going to go out and hire the contractor to weatherize the home. You're going to go out and hire the contractor to build the transit system, et cetera.

And so, our plan I know is not perfect. And it's one leg of a three-legged stool here to get the economy moving -- but the financial piece in regard to the banking system is another. But this is a significant move on the road to creating the 3.5 to 4 million jobs that we need that we're losing, as well as -- as well as beginning to lay the foundation for -- for a strong economy. So when we do rebound, we're investing in things that were needed anyway, and needed to provide a 21st century infrastructure.

So, in the end of the day, this debate is not about Washington. It's about you. It's about Pennsylvania, Delaware, California, Montana. It's about people out there who played by the rules, done almost everything right, are being swamped by an economy that is -- there's nothing much they can do about it. This stimulus is needed immediately. With the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, we're going to get it done today. And the net result for the state of Pennsylvania will not solve all your problems, Governor, or Mr. Speaker, but it will be an infusion of roughly $16 billion quickly into the state of Pennsylvania.

So I thank you all for being here, and I'm prepared to take a few questions.

Q: Mr. Vice President, given the vote in Congress so far, and so few Republicans supporting the administration, what does that say about the ability of this administration to go forward on other -- other issues like health care and the war and so on?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It says we're just starting. And to quote President Obama, old habits die hard. This is a -- this is a process. I hope and expect that if the conference report -- and I apologize for using sort of "Senatese" here -- but, meaning the House passed a bill, the Senate passed a bill, and now we're coming up with the final numbers. That conference report, the final bill that's passed, it's my expectation that there will be Republicans who will vote for it, that there will be Republicans in the House and Senate who haven't voted for it before.

But the fact of the matter is President Obama and I have decided that it's not -- it's just -- it's a good investment for us to continue to reach out to the Republicans; to reach out and demonstrate to them that we genuinely mean we want to work with them, that we genuinely know we need their input and we're willing to listen to what they have to say. But we cannot -- we cannot and will not wait around to deal with the most urgent needs the economy has. And I believe that this is a -- sort of a down payment on a set of ideas that will hopefully pass today that will embolden our Republican friends to be more willing to step up to the ball and work with us.


Q: Mr. Vice President, on the state fiscal stabilization funds, does the administration prefer the House number, or the lower Senate number? Or is it a lesser priority for you that you would let --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We prefer the House number, which is $79 billion, but -- the Senate number was roughly $30 billion lower. One of the things that, as I speak, our folks are doing in that conference is trying to raise that number. Whether or not we're going to be able to raise that number to the $79 billion, I doubt it. But I think we will be able to increase that number. We think it's very important -- we think it's very important the governors have that flexibility. And -- otherwise, you're going to continue to see layoffs. You're going to continue to see the state governments and local governments in a position where they are curtailing services, laying off people. And that is not helpful for the economic stimulus.

I can take two more questions, my staff tells me. Yes.

Q: Going back to the question about Republican support, here in Pennsylvania and across the country there are state-level Republicans who are in support of the stimulus package. But when you get to the federal level, next to zero Republican congressional members voted for it. What do you think about that effect --

GOVERNOR RENDELL: I can answer that, Joe. Some of them are fellow governors. I'll answer that, because some of them are my fellow governors, like Governor Crist, Governor Schwarzenegger. I think governors are closer to the problems, they understand the problems more. They understand the infrastructure needs. They understand what an overall good package this is and they're not nearly as political.

I heard that a Republican congressman say that this -- they were going to use the stimulus bill as an opportunity to re-brand their identity. Well, I agree with them that their identity needs re-branding. (Laughter.) But I don't think that the most severe economic crisis that this country has faced in our lifetime is the time to do it.

I think governors, Republican governors understand that. They're not interested in politics. They're not interested in ideology. They're interested in getting things done and getting people back to work and getting this economy moving again.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, I think it's a process. And I think that like -- I can remember back in '72, I got elected to the United States Senate. I was 29-years old, and the Democratic Party was, as the old saying goes, on the balls of our heels. And we were trying to figure out where to go, what to do. Right now, in fairness to our Republican friends in the House and Senate in Congress, I think they're -- they're trying to figure it out. But I think you're going to have some guys with some real courage, like Arlen Specter and others, who will to lead the way. And I think you're going to see that this is going -- this is going to move.

Last question.

Q: Mr. Vice President, the recession has a certain psychology to it. And presumably, getting out of it will require not just creating the jobs the stimulus package is going to create, but also changing that psychology. And so, I'm curious to know what is the broader message you want to send with this bill. And if it does end up passing on a sort of party-line vote, how will that affect that psychological message?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, quite frankly -- I think it's a very good question, but quite frankly, I don't think 95 percent of the American people of the -- let's assume the numbers are all what I hope it would be -- that 3.7 to 4 million jobs are created. I don't think any of those people getting those jobs are going to say -- worry about whether or not the Republicans voted for it or against it or whatever. They're just going to -- this is one of that whole Saxon expression -- the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If in fact we are right about -- and I believe we are -- what this economic stimulus package does, it will produce its own psychology.

It has -- a demonstrable piece of it is that we've acted. Remember, we've only been in office now 21, 22, 23 days. I doubt -- I may be mistaken -- I'm a student of history, but I'm not a historian -- but I doubt that anything this massive, this consequential, this significant has passed this quickly in any other administration. We're talking about 100 days. We haven't even hit 25 days yet.

And so, I think it is one of the -- it is the thing that will kick -start the confidence, the psychology that we can climb out of this, that we can handle this. I would point out, there's never been a time in American history, when the American people have been challenged by their government, that they've ever let the government down, or their country down, more importantly -- not the government, their country down. And I think this is part of the psychology.

The question initially -- remember, it's hard -- it seems like more than 21 days. (Laughter.) But think about it. The question was: Could we do anything? Two days after inauguration all the commentary was: Is anything going to happen? Is there any place to go here? And the parties are so far apart, how could we ever do something like this? We're talking about almost a trillion dollars, was the phrase used. Now, we're going to pass something that's almost $800 billion.

I think it demonstrates we're prepared to move. I think it demonstrates we're prepared to be able to put together the necessary votes to get that done. And I think that will build confidence in the other things we are going to have to do. This does not solve our problem. But one thing for certain it does -- failure to do this would exacerbate our economic problems in geometric proportions if we did not do this.

And so, I think, as I said, I think the actions are what will generate confidence and change in psychology, not any -- not whether or not we get X number of Republicans to vote for it.

Thank you all very much. I've got to head back to make sure this is happening. I appreciate it. (Applause.)

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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