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Stimulus is working, says Biden, but country needs job gains for recovery to be complete

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 15, 2009 - With St. Louis area police and firefighters serving as a backdrop, Vice President Joe Biden offered assurances Thursday about the state of the nation's economy -- and the need for hefty federal spending to put it back on track.

"The conversation is not whether we will have a recovery, but what shape it will take," Biden said in an address to about 200 people at the St. Louis County Police and Fire Training Center in Wellston.

"Are we home yet?" he added. "No. But we've stopped the bleeding and the patient is regaining consciousness."

He credited recent improvements, in part, to an "infusion of federal money."

And as the Obama administration has emphasized for months, Biden said the public needs to recognize that "we inherited a badly wounded economy."

Joined by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom, Biden said that the federal stimulus spending -- which critics have attacked for months -- was just part of the effort to bring the economy back.

The nation's current economic situation, he said, is "the great recession, the worst recession since the Great Depression. No economic blow has been as consequential and gone at the heart of what this country is about."

The hefty spending, Biden said, was necessary to keep banks from closing and to keep essential services -- such as police, fire and schools -- in operation.

Biden said keeping those services alive contributed to the stabilization of housing prices and the slowdown in job loss.

Isom bolstered the administration's case by telling the crowd how federal stimulus money allowed the city of St. Louis to retain 50 police officers who otherwise would have lost their jobs.

"For the naysayers, I say, 'What would you have done?'" Biden said, touching off applause.

Aside the public safety issues, the vice president cited other financial hardships that the stimulus spending had averted. "Had we not acted," he said, "Twelve million people wouldn't be getting unemployment benefits," referring to extensions of jobless aid that was part of the stimulus package.

As recently as March, he said, home prices were declining. Now they have stabilized and are heading back up. And so far, he continued, the financial institutions have paid back $70 billion of their aid, and are slated to pay back $50 billion more next year.

Biden said his visit was "mainly to give you hope. We are making genuine progress." However, he acknowledged that true recovery would be evident only when the nation is looking at job gains, not job losses.

He added: "A job is about more than a paycheck. It's about dignity." He recalled his own childhood, when his father had to move away to find work, leaving his family behind.

"We will not have succeeded, no matter what" until the gross domestic product and other economic measures turn around, and "until parents can tell their kids with confidence, 'Honey, it's going to be OK.'"

Noting that he and President Barack Obama come from middle-class backgrounds, he said, "The president and I, we know the measure of success, and it's not statistical. ... It's measured by our ability to grow the middle class."

Crowd, Gop Reacts

About 40 members of the crowd were training to be public safety officers, and they were often addressed directly by Biden. Before his speech, the vice president met with 10 recruits in the center's garage, lauding them for their service. "There is a correlation between your numbers and your safety," he said.

Among the crowd were half a dozen seniors from nearby Eskridge High School in Wellston, along with some members of the faculty. English teacher Allison Wiseman said she hoped the students would get "a higher level of civic engagement" as a result of seeing Biden.

After the speech, several students said they were moved by what Biden had to say.

Senior Timothy Bright said, "I thought it was inspirational." He said the students were particularly impressed by Biden's emphasis on the need to improve public education.

Another senior, Ryan McCall, said that Biden's passionate and, at times meandering, speaking style "showed that politicians have personalities."

So far, Missouri has been allocated $4.028 billion in federal stimulus money, according to Nixon's office, and it has spent just less than $1.6 billion so far. The governor and the Legislature have intentionally sought to spread out the spending, which has helped ease the state's still-serious financial problems.

Before Biden's appearance, Republicans offered up two of their own -- U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder -- to refute the Obama administration's message.

"We do not spend our way to prosperity," Kinder said in a conference call Thursday morning. Particularly in the case of the Democratic proposals to expand health care, he continued, "we're making the problem worse by passing a massive government mandate."

Kinder said the increased Medicaid spending that is mandated in several of the Democratic health-care proposals could cost Missouri more than $400 million a year in additional spending.

The additional spending would come because most bills under consideration would require states to use Medicaid to cover people making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level; now, Missouri's adult recipients may earn no more than 20 percent of the poverty level.

Blunt, meanwhile, focused on the stimulus spending -- and emphasized his support of a measure to end it.

"Where are the jobs?" Blunt asked, asserting that when President Barack Obama first took office in January, his administration contended federal stimulus spending would keep the unemployment level from rising above 8 percent. Blunt noted that it now stands at 9.8 percent.

Blunt said the federal stimulus bills have earmarked too much money at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

"Whatever it is, it's not a stimulus," Blunt said, noting that so far only 15 percent of the money has been spent. Handled properly, he said, stimulus aid should be "timely, temporary and targeted."

He contended that the Obama administration's spending has failed to follow that approach.

Blunt is the best-known Republican candidate so far who has announced for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who is not seeking re-election next year.

Part of Biden's visit Thursday was to aid the only announced Democrat for that Senate seat, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

After the event at the police training center, Biden traveled to the Central West End home of Alan and Annette Mandel for a fund-raiser to assist Carnahan. Tickets ranged up to $14,800 for the event.

Police blocked off part of Lindell Boulevard as part of the security for the Biden visit, diverting traffic into side streets and Forest Park.

Biden arrived in Wellston an hour late, making him just as late to the Carnahan event, where about 150 people gathered in a heated tent for a buffet lunch in the Mandels' backyard.

According to some attendees at the private event, Carnahan addressed the crowd and laid out what she viewed were the nation's problems that could be fixed by government.

She introduced Biden, who blamed Republicans for some of the nation's economic headaches and lauded Carnahan and her family -- fixtures in state politics for decades -- for their commitment to public service.

Carnahan and Biden noted their shared experiences, including family tragedies.

Biden took office in the 1970s as the U.S. senator from Delaware just weeks after his wife and young daughter died in a car crash; his two sons were seriously injured. Carnahan's ather, then-Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash on Oct. 16, 2000 -- but still went on to posthumously win his contest for the U.S. Senate, defeating Republican incumbent John Ashcroft.

The late governor's widow (and Robin Carnahan's mother) Jean Carnahan took his Senate post and held it for two years, until she was defeated in a special election by Republican Jim Talent.

During those two years, Jean Carnahan served with Biden.

"He understood what she was going through," Robin Carnahan said in her introductory remarks Thursday. "And he gave her advice. And that advice was, 'Jean, work hard. That's what you need to do. Work hard.'"

According to the pool report (provided by Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, the only print reporter allowed inside), Biden spoke for 20 minutes and "avoided direct mention" of Blunt.

Following is from the pool report:

"The one thing I love about the Carnahans, and I mean this sincerely, my impression is their lure to public service starts here," said Biden, pointing to his stomach. "Starts in their gut and moves to their heart and into their head."

The vice president then hinted that his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, is seriously looking at running for his dad's old Senate seat.

Biden added that, "I find it a hell of lot harder to watch my kid run" than himself.

Looking at Jean Carnahan, who was in the audience, he said: "I may need a little bit of advice from you."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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