Vice President Joe Biden declared here Wednesday that the best cure for the nation's economic ills was to step up the transportation and construction spending that made America great.
"Build, build, build the most modern infrastructure in the world, and the world will come to us," the vice president said at the end of a half-hour address to several hundred people packed into a warehouse at America's Central Port, all waiting to hear him. The Granite City facility, in operation since 1959, was a big beneficiary of the 2009 stimulus law, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The vice president called the region the "heart of America" that had spurred economic growth, a place that believed "there wasn't any impediment that it could not master."
His audience was largely working-class, a fact that Biden -- a potential presidential contender in 2016 -- said were examples of "the folks who brought me to the dance."
For it was those willing to work hard, he said, who built the bridges, roads, railroads and ports that he touted as the true backbone of American commerce. That's why a sizable chunk of the federal stimulus money was directed at such projects, he said.
America's Central Port, for example, received $14.5 million in federal stimulus money to help pay for its southern harbor. Biden noted that the port itself was more than 50 years old, an example of the aging infrastructure he said needed to be revamped and modernized if the nation was to continue to compete.
The stimulus' focus on infrastructure spending, such as for ports, has a long precedent, Biden observed, citing President Abraham Lincoln's decision, in the midst of the Civil War, to press Congress to back construction of the intercontinental railroad.
Biden asserted that there should be more federal spending on infrastructure -- roads, bridges, ports -- not less. "Businesses go where infrastructure exists," he said. "The stimulus spending helped save the country," saving 1.6 million jobs a year, according to economic experts.
Biden was joined by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, as well as current Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and former Secretary Ray LaHood, who was from Illinois. All were there to dispute assertions that the stimulus spending was wasted.
"The stimulus worked, the stimulus was successful," declared LaHood, igniting applause. In fact, LaHood said the law should have allocated more in stimulus money. "Thank goodness for the vision of President Obama."
America’s Central Port new South Harbor, expected to open this fall, is to be a shipping hub for agricultural goods and other commodities. Dennis Wilmsmeyer, the executive director of the port, said in an interview before Biden's visit that the stimulus played a big role in making the project happen.
“Without that funding that government that the government made available, we wouldn’t be where we are today and getting close to construction and completing construction of this facility,” he said.
He said Biden and Foxx's visit to the port "sends a message across the country that the administration certainly realizes that transportation investment and infrastructure investment in this country is very important."
Republicans disputed the benefits of the stimulus in Illinois.
“If the vice president is trying to claim that the Democrats are good for jobs, he could hardly pick a worse state than Illinois for proof,” said Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party. “In the last five years, Gov. 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.”