'Build, build, build': Biden touts stimulus successes in metro-east visit

News-DemocratFebruary 19, 2014 

Vice President Biden in Granite City


— Toward the end of a 30-minute speech Wednesday before about 300 eager supporters, Vice President Joe Biden touted projects like the expansion of America's Central Port harbor as a key reason he's optimistic about America's future.

"I'm optimistic because the answer to our problems are not that complex ... just unleash the potential of Americans to rebuild the skeleton of this great country," Biden told an audience who had assembled in an unheated warehouse at the port overlooking the Mississippi River.

Biden used his visit as an opportunity to praise the leaders who helped him and President Barack Obama five years ago pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which injected nearly $800 billion into the economy in a bid to reverse the worst recession in 75 years.

While Republicans continue to criticize the Recovery Act as wasteful spending that has saddled future generations with greater debt, Biden defended it as necessary.

"What we did was essentially prime the pump," he said, ticking off a litany of accomplishments flowing from the law, including saving or creating 6 million jobs, including hundreds of thousands of positions for firefighters, police officers and teachers.

Biden recalled drafting an eight-page memo on how best to administer the Recovery Act and then presenting it to Obama.

Obama's response: "'That's great, Joe,'" Biden recalled. "'Now you go ahead and do it.'"

Biden paused a moment in response to audience laughter, then added dryly, "By the way, that was the last time I wrote a memo."

Illinois GOP leaders were far less upbeat about either the Recovery Act or the purpose of Biden's visit.

Andrew Welhouse, an Illinois Republican Party spokesman, said Biden could hardly have picked a worse state than Illinois in making the case that Democrats are good for jobs.

"In the last five years, Gov. (Pat) Quinn has been the opposite of a job creator, with anti-business regulations, job-killing tax hikes, and a business climate that discourages growth and forces jobs out of state," according to a statement the party issued.

Illinois has 60,000 fewer jobs and a higher jobless rate -- 8.6 percent -- than it did before the stimulus measure was passed into law, Welhouse wrote.

"A visit and a speech from the vice president won't fix Illinois's jobs climate," Welhouse said. "The people of Illinois deserve better than the failures of past five years. But we can make a change this November."

Biden wrapped up his speech by noting two things. First, the United States faces a huge backlog of unmet infrastructure needs worth more than $1 trillion. Second, a recent survey showed that about half of American businesses investing in China want to return home because of America's superiority in terms of safety regulation and the protection of intellectual property.

"Build, build, build," Biden exhorted his listeners. "Build the most modern infrastructure in the world and the world will come to us."

Biden said America's Central Port is a good example of how the stimulus act helped the economy.

He noted that $14.5 million in stimulus money is being used to build the South Harbor project at America's Central Port. Biden also recognized the work of former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, whose district once encompassed Granite City and who played a key role in securing government funds for the construction of the nearby, recently opened Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

"This was the beginning of a bit of a renaissance," Biden said of Costello's role in transforming the site of a former Army logistical support center into a growing industrial park, river harbor and rail center.

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, provided introductory remarks, noting that he knew Biden and his wife Jill years before entering the U.S. House. At the time, Enyart was a two-star Army general and commander of the Illinois National Guard.

Enyart said he was impressed by the concern that Jill Biden showed wounded soldiers during visits to military hospitals.

"Any man who's good enough for Jill Biden deserves to be our vice president," Enyart said.

The wisdom of infrastructure investment, especially in transportation assets such as roads and bridges, provided the major theme for the event's other speakers.

Gov. Pat Quinn cited the pro-growth policies of Abraham Lincoln, who "knew you had to invest if you want to grow your country."

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood advanced that theme, praising the Recovery Act's impact.

"The stimulus was successful," he said.

Anthony Foxx, LaHood's successor as the nation's transportation chief, contended that the stimulus package's many benefits from job creation and the repair of bridges and roads "will outlast this administration ... We're not just rebuilding America. We're rebuilding America in a way that was built to last."

Biden drew a direct line from the port expansion in Granite City to nearly 200 years of infrastructure growth and innovation -- a legacy that transformed America into an economic dynamo and fountain of opportunity via the construction of canals, railroads and the interstate highway system.

"And guess what, folks, business goes where infrastructure exists," Biden said.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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