Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President at the White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference

March 12, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you. (Applause.) You all remember that old joke of state officials

-- hey, Matt, how are you? -- all know that old joke, "I'm from the federal government, I'm here to help." (Laughter.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an awesome responsibility here. This has never been done before. We have never attempted in the history of this country to revive -- as one of the three legs of the stool -- to revive our economy. We have never attempted to, as transparently and as accountably, get as much money out into the states as quickly in order to help you with countercyclical help, in terms of your budgets, in terms of your employees, whether it's cops or teachers. Nor have we ever invested this much money since Eisenhower in the -- invested in the Interstate Highway System and the infrastructure of this country. This is a first.

And I want to thank the Secretary for being here today, and for, quite frankly, taking the job that he's taken. It's not often I get introduced by a Nobel laureate. But we have, I think, one of the finest and most qualified Secretaries of Energy -- I would say the most qualified since the department came into existence. And he is a no-nonsense guy that knows what he's doing and, like all of you, wants to get this done.

It's really amazing the turnout here -- 49 of the 50 states are represented here, which says to me your governors are taking this in a deadly earnest, deadly serious way. They understand the value to your state, but also the responsibility that we have. You know, I love it, my grandchildren laugh when they -- when President Obama says nobody messes with Joe -- (laughter)

-- talk to my grandkids, then my kids, then my wife, then my staff, but I can tell you one thing, my passion to make sure this is done right, it may exceed my abilities. But I'm telling you this is not anything that I am fooling around with, nor I expect any of you.

Because, folks, look, let's get this straight. We're given a great opportunity here. We've asked a lot of the American people, a great deal of the American people, in supporting this effort. And so this is a different deal. This is not your usual federal grant going to states. And I want to be blunt with you, off-script here: The fact of the matter is all that is legal is not acceptable. Let me say it again. Just because it may be legal, it is not acceptable -- some of it.

For example, you're going to see regulations announced on Friday by the President, with me with him, about things you'd ordinarily be able to spend federal money on, but we are not going to let you spend federal money on. And I suspect most of you would not want to do it anyway. A little hint: No swimming pools in this money; a few other things.

So it really is important -- I know you know it better than we do, because you're there, you're the ones that are facing these high unemployment rates. Some of your states, some of the poorer states in the nation have the highest unemployment rate, and some wealthy states have even higher unemployment rates. This is a crisis. This is a crisis. And I know you feel as I do, that it requires a exercise of discipline and accountability and transparency like nothing we have ever done in terms of federal-state relations. And I am not kidding about that -- and I know you're not either -- but this is a big deal. The work you're doing is going to be critical to the economic well-being of the country.

Let me point out one other thing. If we don't get this right, folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince the Congress that anything should go to the states. Your state legislatures are struggling. Your governors are struggling. The members of the House and Senate are struggling. They don't want to take up one another's burden. Everyone in this room, I hope you are, in the best sense of the word, good politicians, as well as having very sharp pencils. So I hope you'll understand the dynamic at play here.

So if this -- six months from now, if the verdict on this effort is that we've wasted the money, we built things that were unnecessary, or we've done things that are legal but make no sense, then, folks, don't look for any help from the federal government for a long while. They're going to make sure -- the folks in the House and in the Senate are going to make sure you wear the jacket, not them.

This is a big deal -- this is a big deal. It's also being closely watched not just by me, but by the President, and by Mr. Devaney, who is one of the most respected IGs we have in the federal government, and is known by many of you. And it's also being watched by the taxpayers and it's being watched by the media.

And that's a good thing -- that's a good thing, because the resources being made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are a critical piece -- a critical piece of how we're going to get through this economic crisis, and just as importantly, how we're going to build the economy of the future, which the Secretary referenced.

This is not just an opportunity to help us get out of this mess we're in, but it's an opportunity to begin to lay the foundation for a competitive America in the 21st century. That's something we can never lose sight of. Everyone in this room is has a huge responsibility. We all have the responsibility to make sure this legislation is implemented with maximum efficiency. And we have the responsibility to make sure there's unprecedented transparency for the America people.

Further, there should be no confusion about how this money should be spent. These funds are designed for one of three purposes. First, to -- money to put in people's pockets. That's why we extended unemployment compensation, and 95 percent of the America people are going to see their paychecks fatter, because their payroll taxes will be cut beginning April 1st. They'll have more money in their pocket to spend.

Second, the purpose is to create jobs in the near term, and that's why we -- not just now, but in the near term, over the next 18 months. That's why we've dedicated so much money to rebuilding America's schools, roads, highways, and bridges.

And third, to make investments in those areas that would create the jobs of the future. That's why we've invested in new technologies like wind and solar, a new smart grid for America's electricity, a new superhighway of electricity transmission in the United States of America, and health care technology, to lay the groundwork for saving billions of dollars -- it's the one thing that will get us out of this long-term trajectory of nothing but rising deficits.

And today I'm proud to be announcing two allocations of resources that are a good example of how this money should be spent. First, through the Department of Energy, $8 billion in weatherization funding and energy efficiency grants are going to go out to the states. This is funding that will both create jobs now, and make critical investments in making America more energy efficient in the future.

As the Secretary said, the ultimate answer of our success will be in the black and white of the bill that our constituents receive in terms of their energy costs at the end of the day. Five billion [dollars] of this funding will go to weatherizations of homes for insulation, ceiling leaks, and modernizing heating and air-conditioning equipment. It's an investment that will pay for itself many times over. It's also an investment that will create tens of thousands of jobs right now -- jobs right now.

And additional $3 billion of this money is for state energy programs. That's money that can be used by you for rebates to consumers who are doing energy audits for developing renewable energy projects, and for making state and local government buildings more energy efficient.

You know how to do this well. You are, as they say, the laboratories. You know how to do well -- we're looking to you. We're looking to you not only to receive this money and spend it accountably and transparently, but innovatively. And we hope that some of you, your success will be shared with other states. So there's an opportunity here -- there's an opportunity for real innovation.

Of this $8 billion investment, we'll start with an $800 million allocation right now, with the rest being made available once we get the detailed plans from states and local governments on how you will allocate the money, and give you time to -- you'll hear today how and what kind of plans you need to submit in order to be able to do that.

Second, through the Department of Transportation, the first funding allocations for airport infrastructure projects are being made today -- $10 million to the Pittsburgh International Airport, $2 million to the Allegheny County Airport. This money will be used for runway, taxiway, and ramp repair. Again, this is money that would create jobs now, but it's also an investment in long-term safety of our airports and of their economic viability. Altogether, $1 billion in Recovery Act money has been allocated to airport projects.

There are 3,000 -- I need not tell many of you -- there are 3,400 airports all across your states that will be eligible to compete for this money. But our main purpose here today is not funding announcements, or even to hear from people like me. It's for you to have direct access to the various agencies running these recovery programs.

Many of you have contacted me personally and said, Joe, how do we do this? What are the rules, what are the regs? How do we get this done? What do we do? We want to do it by the numbers; tell us what we need to know. Well, you have an opportunity today to ask questions about the funds that we'll be overseeing, the requirements for receiving these funds and the steps you'll need to take. And it will be a long day, it will be a long day, but an important day, in my view.

But I promise you, you'll leave here with helpful information you need, a commitment by key administration officials to get you what you need, and it may be a bit dry, but it's the nuts and bolts of the hard work of making this program work. And that's what the purpose of today is.

I will be leaving here to meet with -- I assemble the Cabinet about once a week. It's unusual, I know, for Vice Presidents to call Cabinet meetings, but we feel this is so important that I meet with the Cabinet members to sit down and I want to know every week what they're doing, what their plans are, how much money is out the door, how they're attempting to account for it. I met yesterday for a long time with the IG who's in charge of this, Mr. Devaney, and him putting together his staff and the resources he needs to oversee this. As he says, we're not looking to find corruption, we're looking to prevent it. We're looking at the front end of this to prevent errors -- to prevent errors. This is not a witch hunt. This is to make sure that we spend this money well.

And so we're taking this very seriously. I know some of you may be frustrated -- you don't have all the answers right away. But keep in mind, we've been in office 50 days -- 50 days and this has been around about 30 days, maybe less than that. And so we're moving as fast as we can. And that's why we're so thankful you're here to help us -- help us figure out how to move this so everybody knows what the rules of the road are.

Just as importantly, as I said earlier, we want to hear from you. We're urging you and your governors to regularly update us regarding projects that are being funded through the Recovery Act. We want to keep track of the innovations and successes you have. Again, I'm not being solicitous. Some of you in the states have done innovative things that are beyond the capacity of the federal government to do quickly. And we want this to be a clearinghouse, as well. Some of you are going to do very well in some things and come up with some very good ideas, and others aren't, and others are going to be in other areas. We want to share all this information as rapidly and as close to real time as we can. That's a great way for us and for others states to learn, as well.

It's important for the people in your state to know about the jobs that are being saved, as well; restored, as well; created. Some of these 3.5 million jobs are just jobs we're going to keep from being lost. Most economists have acknowledged that had we done nothing in this area, we would have lost another 4 to 5 million jobs this year -- an additional 4 to 5 million jobs, on top of what has already been lost since the recession has been officially declared as having started in the fall.

So, folks, we have a lot to show for -- show to our constituents. It's important, as I said, that they see that citizens know in your state what long-term investments are being made and that there's a prospect, in their view, that it will pay off. People will support us. They know this isn't going to turn around quickly. I can make an analogy to the crime bill. Years ago some of you I worked with on the crime bill. I wrote that bill in the early '90s; it got passed in '94 because of the great leadership of President Clinton, and we passed the bill. And everybody got all nervous after it got passed -- said, Biden, you talked us into this and we're spending $30 billion and the crime rate is not going to go down in a year. And the crime rate could not go down in a year, it would not go down in a year. It was going to take time to build this in.

But guess what. We were transparent with all of you, we were transparent with the American people. We pointed out exactly how many cops we were funding, how many prisons were being built, how much money was being spent with regard to prevention. We made it absolutely transparent. We went all over the country. You, governors, congresspersons, all made it clear to the American people every time we spent a dollar with a new badge. And the reason why it worked is that people said, okay, this makes sense; I think this will produce results. And it did. It ended up for nine years reducing the violent crime rate on average 8.5 percent per year.

But it didn't happen in the first year. It's an analogous circumstance here. It's an analogous -- we're going to have a rough year. I don't have to tell you. DEFAC -- well, in Delaware it's called DEFAC -- but all around the country you have your outside groups and internal groups giving you revenue estimates and cost estimates. And you're not looking at a rosy picture. People will support us if it appears as though what we're doing makes sense, we're accountable, and we're totally transparent.

And so what we want to do is we want to make sure that they see as quickly and as clearly as possible how we're spending the money in each of our respective states. That way, with the implementation efforts you make, we can understand the problems that we're going to face, because we're going to run into problems here, and we can move more quickly to solve them. It's also going to make it possible for us to share your concerns with other states that are being -- that are experiencing similar issues, and how they're going to be answered.

So let me finish by reemphasizing one point: We are all on the line. The American people are looking to us to get this right, and you need to do that. We have to do our part to give you the best guidance we can and the most cooperation we can. You're an important part of helping this nation through one of the worst economic crises in the history of this country. It -- the Great Depression was worse, but it was not as complicated -- sounds ridiculous, but it was not as complicated as this is.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, we have, as I said, an incredible responsibility, so let's make sure we meet it.

And now let me introduce our first presenter, a man who is doing a spectacular job as one of the real day-to-day leaders in making this Recovery Act a reality, and our administration is really fortunate to have his talents -- and I mean that sincerely; it's not hyperbole -- and that is the Deputy Director of OMB, Rob Nabors. And I think Rob is around here -- is he? There you are, Rob. How are you? Come on up and do the hard work. (Applause.)

Folks -- and then let me make one more comment. I really instruct your -- tell your governor -- I know you can't instruct your governors -- (laughter.) Tell your governors, literally, if they have a problem if they're confused, if you're confused about what needs to be done, literally pick up the phone and call me. Call me. I'm not -- that is not -- look, I've been -- I was a senator for 36 years in a state where I commuted every day and the only billboard ever used when I ran for office was "Joe." I'm used to -- I'm used to being accessible. I really mean it -- have your governors call me, and we'll get it straightened out, because we got to get it right.

Sorry, Rob, that's all yours, buddy. I'm heading off to talk to the Cabinet. Thank you, all, very, very much. (Applause.)

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President at the White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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