By Kevin Freking
Monday, December 22, 2008
As vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will oversee an Obama administration effort to find ways of building up the ranks of the middle class, that ambiguously defined segment of society with which most Americans identify.
The task force will include four Cabinet members as well as other presidential advisers, the Obama transition team announced yesterday.
The goal is to recommend proposals to ensure the middle class is "no longer being left behind," Biden said. The proposals could include executive orders and legislative plans.
"Our charge is to look at existing and future policies across the board and use a yardstick to measure how they are impacting the working and middle-class families," Biden said in a statement. "Is the number of these families growing? Are they prospering? President-elect Obama and I know the economic health of working families has eroded, and we intend to turn that around."
Overseeing a task force has become tradition for vice presidents.
Dick Cheney led a task force on energy. Al Gore had the task of reinventing government. George H.W. Bush oversaw a Reagan administration task force charged with reducing government regulation. Although all the efforts resulted in some accomplishments, it is clear that the issues they confronted were so large and systemic that many could and did question whether progress was made.
Biden said the measure of economic success in an Obama administration would be whether the middle class was growing.
The transition team promised the task force's work would be transparent, with annual reports on its findings and recommendations. Also, any submissions from outside groups are to be posted on the Internet.
The task force's members will include the secretaries of labor, health and human services, education, and commerce; the directors of the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Domestic Policy Council; and the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
In an interview yesterday on ABC News's "This Week," Biden took care to define his vice presidential role as going beyond a particular task. He said that when he discussed the job with Obama during the campaign, he made it clear that he didn't "want to be the guy that goes out and has a specific assignment." Rather, he wanted to have a voice in every matter of importance.
"I said, 'I want a commitment from you that in every important decision you'll make, every critical decision, economic and political as well as foreign policy, I'll get to be in the room,' " Biden said.
He said Obama agreed and has adhered to the commitment.
"Every single, solitary appointment he has made thus far, I have been in the room," said Biden, who was elected to the Senate seven times. "The recommendations I have made in most cases, coincidentally, have been the recommendations that he's picked, not because I made them, but because we think a lot alike."