Biden Fires Back At Stimulus Critics

Vice President Biden took the administration's message straight to the home turf of an outspoken critic of the stimulus act, Republican Rep. Eric Cantor.
Vice President Biden took the administration's message straight to the home turf of an outspoken critic of the stimulus act, Republican Rep. Eric Cantor. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear and Alexi Mostrous
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 17, 2009

The debate over the effectiveness of the government's massive stimulus act hit a fever pitch yesterday, as Vice President Biden took the White House message straight to the district of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a leading critic of the president's economic policies.

Without naming Cantor, the vice president, whom President Obama has dubbed the "sheriff" of the stimulus plan, trained his rhetoric squarely at the Richmond lawmaker, who has helped hone one of the GOP's most effective lines of attack on the president: that the $787 billion stimulus package has not produced jobs.

"To those who say that our economic decisions haven't saved jobs, it simply hasn't worked, I say, 'Look around you,' " Biden said in his appearance at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Cantor's Richmond area district.

"I say, 'Don't let your opposition to the Recovery Act blind you to the results. Come see what I see.' Look, workers rehired, factories reopened, cops on the street, teachers in the classroom, progress toward getting our economy back on the move."

Cantor swung back even before the vice president had begun speaking, hammering Obama and congressional Democrats for what he called a failed economic policy that had done little to create the jobs they promised. In a conference call yesterday afternoon, he implied that Biden and Obama were not listening to their constituents in Virginia.

"The president seems to be concerned about anything but creating jobs," Cantor said. "Millions of jobs will be crushed by this administration's policies."

The debate is crucial to Obama's political future, and both parties are working feverishly to shape public attitude about the direction of the economy. In recent weeks, the Republican argument against the stimulus act has been boosted by worse-than-expected job losses across the country.

Obama's team had predicted that the stimulus package would keep unemployment to a peak of about 8.5 percent, but the rate soared to 9.5 percent last month, leading Biden to say that the administration had "misread" the depth of the recession.

Confidence that the stimulus package will reverse the economic decline is dropping, and its success or failure could be a central issue in the 2010 midterm elections. In a recent Hotline survey, 39 percent said they were confident it would be successful in turning around the economy, a drop from 57 percent in March.

Even as Biden spoke, the White House assembled its top economic and political advisers at two 90-minute briefings for reporters, arguing that the stimulus act is working exactly as they expected: easing-- but not erasing -- the impact of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

"The point of these programs on the jobs front is to cushion the blow," said Jared Bernstein, Biden's chief economic adviser. "I feel very confident that the American people understand that it will take a very, very long time to fill what the president described as a very, very deep hole."

Bernstein presented a series of charts indicating that $226 billion has been put to work already, the leading edge of a wave of money flowing through the economy that he said would reduce the number of job losses that would have otherwise occurred.

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