Biden Takes to Airwaves to Defend Stimulus

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009; 2:03 PM

Vice President Biden today defended the Obama administration's massive stimulus package and ambitious policy goals, vowing to "follow the money" and publicly track any missteps among decision makers "to embarrass them into doing what they are supposed to do."

Appearing on all three network morning shows the day after President Obama outlined his plans before a joint session of Congress, Biden explained the role he will play as the chief overseer of the government's stimulus plan. He said a simultaneous effort to revive the economy and reform health care, education and energy is a vital part of recovering from the ongoing financial downturn.

"Opportunity presents itself in the middle of a crisis," Biden said on ABC's "Good Morning America." He added: "You cannot gain control of our budget deficits without gaining control of health-care spending. You cannot gain control over our economy without gaining control of our energy policy. And you cannot grow this country without an education policy."

Biden said he will use his broad oversight role "to make sure people know where the money's going" and will meet with Cabinet secretaries frequently, starting this morning, and speak regularly with governors and mayors as well.

"This cannot be squandered," said Biden, who pre-taped interviews with NBC and CBS and was interviewed live on ABC, so that all three segments aired simultaneously shortly after 7 a.m. "We have an opportunity to get the nation back to work and back on its feet. . . . And we have to do it right."

Although Democratic leaders were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Obama's 52-minute prime-time address, which also drew strong reviews from the public in insta-polls, Republicans this morning were more skeptical.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised the man who beat him in the 2008 presidential race for an "excellent speech" that laid out challenges "and yet gave Americans a sense of strength and optimism that we will get through this." But he said far deeper spending cuts than those being proposed were needed. And he questioned whether the new administration could forge the bipartisan ties he said are necessary to push reforms through.

"We can achieve health-care reform in America . . . if we do it in a truly bipartisan basis," McCain said in an interview on CNN. "Sitting down together, Republicans, Democrats and the administration."

Rep. Eric. Cantor (Va.), the House Republican whip, expressed a willingness to work with the White House but was critical of the House Democratic leadership, which he accused of pushing through a stimulus package without working with the GOP.

"We've got to make sure that everything we do is aimed at returning people to the financial security that they've lost," Cantor said on "Good Morning America." "We've got to start injecting common sense here on Capitol Hill and make sure that what we're doing works."

Later in the morning, Biden chaired a meeting of Cabinet secretaries and officials who will be monitoring the government spending for the $787 billion stimulus plan. He announced that the first disbursement of the money will be made today when the Department of Health and Human Services releases $15 billion for health care for children, seniors and the poor. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will shortly release another $10 billion, he said, to states and local governments to make public housing more energy efficient, to improve affordable housing and to fund lead paint removal projects.

"We have to actually get this money out the door," Biden told the officials. "We've got to make sure that we're able to answer this crisis."

Asked in his television interviews about remarks yesterday by Federal Reserve Chairman Chief Ben S. Bernanke that the recession could be short-lived if government efforts are successful, Biden said the administration expects to see "positive growth" in the economy by the end of this year. At the same time, he echoed previous statements by Obama that the worst economic crisis in decades will not be easily fixed.

"It's going to take some time," Biden said. "There is no magic bullet to this."

Biden said he will work with a team of oversight officials, including former Interior Department inspector general Earl Devaney, to track stimulus spending. Extensive information about how money is allocated and spent will be posted on the government Web site, he said, in an effort to be as transparent as possible.

"I'm going to be moving to let people know exactly what's going on and when," Biden told CBS's "Early Show." If money is misspent, he said, "I will literally come on your show. I will be on television saying that, 'We're disappointed. This is what happened. The money was supposed to be spent for this; it got spent for that.' "

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