As Vice President Joe Biden gears up to run for president, it falls to publications like WND to remind the American people that he is more than just a gaffe machine. Indeed, the gaffes tend to mask the charming incompetence at Biden’s core.
“Look, [McCain’s] last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number-one job facing the middle class,” said Biden at a stop in Ohio during the 2008 campaign, “and it happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs.”
If Biden could reduce the letters in “jobs” by 25 percent, maybe, Obama figured, he could do the same for the number of jobless. So when Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – aka “Porkulus” – into law in February 2009, he turned to Biden to make sure that “the investments were sound, the projects worthy, and the execution efficient.”
Given the state of the economy, there was urgency to the White House’s plan. “We’ve got shovel-ready projects all across the country that governors and mayors are pleading to fund,” said Obama in December 2008. “And the minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.”
In the days that followed, Obama and Biden repeated the phrase “shovel-ready” like a sacred oath. On a Dec. 7, 2008, “Meet the Press” Obama got more specific.
“I think we can get a lot of work done fast,” he told Tom Brokaw as though he meant it. “When I met with the governors, all of them have projects that are shovel-ready, that are going to require us to get the money out the door, but they’ve already lined up the projects, and they can make them work.”
On hearing White House promises, the taxpayer could not be faulted for envisioning teams of bronzed young workers, freed from the ranks of the jobless, laboring away in the fresh air CCC-style on needed infrastructure projects.
A week after signing the Recovery Act into law, Obama addressed Congress and the nation on the state of the economy. In the speech, Obama specified that more than 90 percent of the new job openings would be in the private sector.
The examples Obama cited were all infrastructure jobs – “rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit” – but he noticeably shied from using the phrase “shovel-ready.”
A report released in late November 2009 by the Department of Transportation showed that “shovel-ready” had already lost all meaning. Eight months after the bill was passed, less than 1 percent of the stimulus funds had been paid out.
A few days later, Obama admitted as much when he told a roomful of local government officials and union reps, “The term ‘shovel-ready’ – let’s be honest, it doesn’t always live up to its billing.”
Rather than acknowledging failure or even miscalculation, Obama chose to lie his way out of the jam. In a speech at the Brookings Institute a few days later, Obama boasted that “more than 10,000” infrastructure projects had been funded through the Recovery Act.
“By design,” however, he delayed their implementation. He did so for two reasons: one was that the projects would have more economic impact if spread over a two-year period; the second, and more important, was to get Biden involved in their oversight.
Interest-group politics did not much help the search for shovel-ready projects. Obama’s designated chair for the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, casually explained why in an interview she did for the transitional team on Jan. 11, 2009.
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According to Romer, as she was co-writing a report on the Stimulus bill, she kept hearing from women’s groups. They told her, in Romer’s own words, “We don’t want this stimulus package to just create jobs for burly men.”
Romer cheerfully agreed. So did Biden and Obama. To show their sensitivity, White House planners built into the Stimulus lots of non-shovel-ready work for non-burly people, women and pajama boys both. The only thing that gesture helped build, unfortunately, was the Democratic base.
In September 2010, Obama admitted to the New York Times that, when it comes to public works, “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Biden must not have gotten the memo. In a press conference in June of that year he was boasting about “between 2.3 million and 2.8 million jobs that were either saved or created.”
In fact, however, there were more than 2 million fewer Americans employed in February 2011 than there were in February 2009. That much conceded, neither Biden nor Obama offered any apology to the American people for misleading them.
By June 2011, Obama was able to see the humor in this pricy game of bait-and-switch. At a meeting with his jobs council, a member explained the inevitable delays on any infrastructure project.
“I’m sure that when you implemented the Recovery Act your staff briefed you on many of these challenges,” the fellow said. He expected an answer in the affirmative. He did not get one.
Replied Obama with a smile, “Shovel-ready was not as … uh … shovel-ready as we expected.” The council members burst out laughing. The unemployment rate at the time stood at 9.1 percent. The jobless likely did not get the joke.
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