WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden asserted in an interview today that taxpayers have “gotten their money’s worth” out of the $787 billion stimulus program that Congress passed during the depths of the recession.
In an interview broadcast on CBS’s “The Early Show,” Biden defended the program against accusations by Republicans critics that it hasn’t been the job-manufacturing machine the administration promised to the American people.
He argued that money invested in both private and public-sector initiatives has saved as many as 2 million jobs, and said, “I don’t think they realize it.” Biden said the program, now a year old, was designed to be implemented in two stages, saying “we’ve only been halfway through the act.”
Christina Romer, who heads the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a separate interview that one component of the stimulus program had worked especially well. “State fiscal relief really has kept hundreds of thousands of teachers and firefighters and first responders on the job,” she said.
“We have seen productivity surge,” Romer said. “And that, at one level, is a good sign out the economy. But absolutely, we’ve got to translate GDP growth into employment growth. Right now, the employment numbers look basically stable. We think we’re going to see positive job growth by spring.”
The Obama administration has been feeling considerable political pressure of late, in part because of the stunning upset of its favored candidate in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Earlier this week, a leading Senate Democratic moderate, Indiana’s Evan Bayh, joined an increasing number of lawmakers who have announced they will be leaving Congress. This has come amid rising public anger over joblessness, high deficits and Washington partisanship.
Asked if the administration had focused too heavily on health care changes and new energy initiatives during its first months in office, when the recession had a grip on the economy, Biden said, “We’ve had to try to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The vice president said “the reason why there was so much emphasis on health care wasn’t just that people who don’t have it need it, and those who have it have to keep it.” He said the aim was “to affect the long-term debt.”
Biden told CBS anchor Harry Smith that “we’re in a situation here where if we do nothing about that cost curve — in the last 10 years, health care costs have gone up 100 percent.”
Gesturing with his hand, he said: “Now, unless you bring that cost curve from going like this, down like this, we’re in deep trouble.”
Biden also said the administration understands why people are angry about chronically high unemployment, which now stands at 9.7 percent of the labor force. “We get it,” he said.
“Look, we are in good shape compared to Congress,” he said of the political pinch the administration has felt in recent weeks. “No one in Washington’s in good shape.”
Biden said the atmosphere of high anxiety across the country “reflects the reality that Washington right now is broken.”
“I don’t ever recall a time in my career where, to get anything done, you need a supermajority, 60 out of 100 senators,” the vice president said, referring to the Senate filibuster rule that requires at least 60 votes to advance legislation to a vote.
“I’ve never seen it this dysfunctional,” Biden said.
Romer was interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”