- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vice President Joe Biden Thursday offered a stout defense of the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan, saying that the program is exceeding short-term benchmarks and being one-third of the way to its full goals.

Mr. Biden said economists estimate the plan, dubbed the Recovery and Reinvestment Act when it passed in February, has so far created or saved between 500,000 and 750,000 jobs. He said some suggest that number is as high as 1 million, and said the rescue plan had changed the national conversation — with people viewing the economy coming to the end of a recession, not approaching a depression.

Mr. Biden said when he and President Obama took office in late January, they every day faced an “economic parade of horribles.”

“If you look at the Recovery Act as a two-year marathon, we’re at the nine-mile mark, just approaching the nine-mile mark,” Mr. Biden said during an address at the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “Some of the most exciting and transformative initiatives are just getting under way.”

Among those will be high-speed rail and “clean energy” announcements, including one on solar power expected Friday, he said.

“The Recovery Act is not a single silver bullet, I think of it as silver buckshot,” the vice president said. “[It] is in fact working.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican considering a 2012 presidential run, said Thursday on CNBC he doubted the figures coming from the government and cited a Government Accountability Office report that found 90 percent of the money hadn’t been spent by the end of July.

“So if those turn out to be the facts, historians are going to be very hard pressed to look back and say the stimulus turned the economy around,” Mr. Pawlenty said.

But the vice president, sent out to deliver an economic message as Mr. Obama was at his Camp David presidential retreat, disputed his critics.

“Recovery Act dollars are going further and working harder” than anticipated, Mr. Biden said, adding that “some of my more cautious advisers” got extremely nervous when he predicted 600,000 more jobs would be created or saved in the second hundred days of the stimulus plan.

Mr. Biden said when the White House Council of Economic Advisers releases its Sept. 10 projection of jobs saved or created by the stimulus plan, he is “optimistic” and “confident” the figures will prove the administration has met or exceeded its goal of creating or saving 750,000 jobs so far.

Republicans have questioned those figures, saying the count isn’t accurate since people with jobs are included in the tally.

Speaking to a friendly audience of less than 100, Mr. Biden ticked off some of the stimulus plan’s achievements, from tax credits and homebuying incentives to state and local public safety jobs preserved. He also previewed new projects, including laying broadband lines and helping family farmers buy and sell on-line.

The vice president, given the lead role in the implementation of the plan from the White House, said he has directed Cabinet secretaries to be more “aggressive” in the next phase and “to put more pace on the ball.”

“I take responsibility for mistakes that were made” early on, Mr. Biden said.

He said he was rightly criticized by some for “moving too slowly,” but said he needed the administration set up a plan to minimize waste.

Mr. Biden has at times offered a contradictory message, once saying in a television interview that the administration “misread” the economy and saying in June that waste is an inevitable side effect to the massive plan.

The vice president said some officials disagreed when he wanted to publicly announce goals for the spending. “It was the only way to get credibility and accountability, … putting ourselves on the line,” he said.

He also had some advice for the crowd — don’t write a memo to the president outlining a job if you don’t want to do it — and grinned as he said: “I did not volunteer for this job.”

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