Remarks by Vice President Joseph Biden at a Meeting of the Middle Class Task Force (Panel One)

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Feb. 27, 2009
Location: Philadelphia, PA


REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN AT A MEETING OF THE MIDDLE CLASS TASK FORCE (PANEL ONE)

(AS RELEASED BY THE WHITE HOUSE)

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VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'd like the record to show it's the first time in my life my Senate colleagues ever stood for me. I really do appreciate that -- (laughter) -- this was worth the job, worth the trip. (Laughter.)

Ladies and gentleman, thank you for all being here today, and Senators Specter and Casey, and Congressman Fattah and Congressman Brady; Mayor Nutter and the governor will be here, as well; and many luminaries that are here in the audience: I see that Andy Stern of SEIU is out there, and Anna Burger of Change to Win, -- (applause) -- and as I understand it, that Jerry Sullivan is out there, representing the laborers that are going to get, God-willing and the creek not rising, a significant boost from what we're about to do. And Congressman Patrick Murphy, I'm told, is in the audience, as well as -- and I just got this list, I hope I'm not leaving anybody out -- the mayor of Easton, Sal Panto is here, I'm told -- Sal, welcome; the mayor of Bethlehem, John Callahan; the mayor of Harrisburg, Steve Reed; the mayor of Allentown, Ed -- is it Pawlowski -- (laughter) -- did I get it right -- you can call me "Bidden" if I got it wrong -- (laughter) -- the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, next to the -- one of the second best towns in America after Wilmington, Delaware -- Scranton, Pennsylvania, the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, Tom Leighton is here I'm told; and a good personal friend and a great public servant, Jim Florio, former governor of New Jersey I'm told is here. So welcome, Jim. (Applause.)

I -- after thanking my colleagues in the panel, I love being here today. But I'm continuing to pay tuition here -- my son, Beau, was an undergraduate here -- got a pay raise when he left and went off to Syracuse law school. My daughter is here in graduate school, and she is getting a master's degree in social work. And so I'm really looking forward to this recovery act. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) Secretary Duncan -- (laughter) -- just I wish to heck three or four Presidents earlier, we did what we're doing now. I'd have felt a lot better about it, and my net worth would be better off.

But look, the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act represents an incredibly strong first step in, at least in my view, along this long and difficult road to recovery. And I want to thank Senator Specter. I personally want to thank Senator Specter. (Applause.)

I've been a senator for 36 years, and I think I can count on one hand when I've watched people cast a vote from the side of the aisle, Democrat or Republican, that they happen to sit on, that no one doubts cost them -- cost them politically, but cast the vote because they truly believed it was in the best interest in the country. And so, Arlen, we would not -- this legislation -- it may not even help you my saying it, but this legislation would not exist were it not for you. I can tell you that personally, because two of your other Republican colleagues said -- one in particular -- if Senator Specter doesn't vote for it, I don't vote it; there were not enough votes. You're responsible for this, and I thank you. (Applause.)

The worst part for Senator Casey is I take him so much for granted, I always count on him doing the right thing, which he does. And thank you for being on the front end of this. And I thank my congressional colleagues, as well.

Look, folks, we're making an unprecedented investment in this country, in the recovery of this country, and an unprecedented investment in clean energy, clean energy that will be able to create tens of thousands, over time, of good, high-paying jobs, the vast majority of which are not exportable -- they're all American jobs. And how far -- (applause) -- how far and how fast we travel on that road is going to be determined by the actions we take, not only in implementing the recovery act, but also in continuing to make progress on energy, health care and education. That's why President Obama asked me to lead our Middle Class Task Force as well as oversee the implementation of this recovery package, which is almost $800 billion.

You know, when we were running for public office -- excuse me -- for the President and the Vice President, we said something repeatedly that I want to reinforce that we mean. And that is, when we measure the success or failure of this administration, at the end of the day, not merely whether the economy is technically recovering and the GDP is growing, but whether or not the middle class, at the end of the day, the middle class is growing, the middle class is in fact reaping its fair share of the economic growth, because over the course of the last economic expansion, the middle class participated in very few of the benefits. Between the year 2000 and 2007, American workers -- American workers were highly productive -- productivity increased significantly, yet the income of middle-class households fell $2,000 a year. We broke the bargain, the bargain that was made back in the middle of the last century -- that workers producing a more productive economy would participate -- participate in the benefits of that increased production. We want to make sure that does not happen again.

But now in the midst of this historic economic downturn, the middle class is sure participating in the pain; they're sure in on the downside. They weren't very much in on the upside; they're in on the downside.

So the goal of this Middle Class Task Force is to ensure the benefits in the strengthening economy -- ensure that they reach -- reach those responsible for the strength of the economy and restore to the center of our efforts the middle class that has been long forgotten, left behind, and in my view, left out of our investments. We intend to change that. That's why this is the first in what will be a monthly series of town meetings and hearings all across America over the next year to determine how, how we can deal with those elements of the economy that most affect the middle class.

We'll be dealing with issues from retirement income, to education, and many others in other fora. But today, we're going to focus on green jobs. Although there are many aspects of the recovery act that's going to help the middle class, that's the focus today. Green jobs are associated with some aspect of the (inaudible). You can have different definitions of green jobs. The United Nations has a definition; various organizations have a definition. But bottom line, in simple terms, for us: It means all those jobs associated with environmental improvement and improving the lives of the American people. Scientists working on an advanced, renewable alternative to CO2-producing fossil fuels is engaged in a green job, as is a laborer winterizing or weatherizing a home, or a lineman or a linewoman building out the smart grid -- they're all green jobs.

When President Obama signed the economic recovery package into law last week, it included, among other things, more than $19 billion in renewable energy like wind and solar power, which would create more jobs like those created here in Pennsylvania at (inaudible), a company that puts steel workers to work building windmills, or AE Polysilicon, a company that will make components of solar panels. It includes $11 billion to help build a new transmission superhighway. We all know that the existing electrical grid today is inadequate, insufficient and outdated.

For example, of all the wind power that we're talking about being able to create in the Midwest and North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and other plain states, is a -- significant potential. But it cannot carry that energy right now to population centers that need the electricity most without a new transmission superhighway. In order to bring significant amounts of renewable energy online, we need to invest in tens of thousands of new, high-voltage -- tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage national transmission line. We kicked this off with a minimum of 3,000 miles of those new lines.

With more than $11 billion to invest in a new smart grid, the recovery act we believe will jumpstart the modernization of the electrical grid. These investments are going to create thousands of miles of new, modernized, high-tech transmission lines. The bill also will deploy 40 million new smart meters, the meters that people have on the side of their homes and people have on the side of their buildings, and at the basements of the buildings that exist in businesses. These smart meters and the modernization of the power grid itself will allow for smarter, more efficient delivery of power that will save energy, lower our monthly bills, enable future innovations in renewable energy and electric vehicles. We look at this as a whole thing, you know, a whole new approach. We want people to understand that when these kinds of investments, when those electric cars come online, you're going to have a place to plug it in efficiently and at low peak periods to be able to efficiently, cleanly and more cheaply do what you did before, in terms of your transportation needs.

It also includes smart (inaudible) technology. It will allow middle-class families to check whether they're running a washing machine or a dishwasher at a peak time, a more expensive time. We encourage new businesses, small businesses, and manufacturers to build these new, smart data.

We should have -- we will have -- they exist now -- washing machines and/or dishwashers, that you will put your dishes in your washer after -- the dishwasher after you've had your dinner at 6:00 p.m., and it speaks back to you and says, "don't start until 11:00 p.m." Automatically it will start washing dishes at 11:00 p.m. at night, not at a peak time, saving you money.

It includes $5 billion to help make housing more energy efficient, which has the added benefit of saving these families money on their monthly utility bills. And importantly, we'll invest $500 million to make sure workers have the skills they need to expand this (inaudible) to perform the energy audits needed to efficiently weatherize the homes, and to do retrofits necessary to upgrade older buildings -- like we saw, by the way, today, at the University of Pennsylvania, an impressive, an impressive undertaking. This is a small city, this is a small city. This has -- I forget the exact number that was given, but it's the equivalent of powering tens of thousands of homes. And what are they doing? They're saving incredible amounts of money. They're saving on energy consumption, and they're saving the environment in the process.

And so one example of the successful collaboration and how we're going to train people -- when I say -- and I look around the table and a lot of my friends who served in Congress or were governors, and we'd say to our constituents, we're going to have a job-training program -- (inaudible) they go, yes, okay; (inaudible) job-training program; we're just going to go out and pick people off the street and say, we'll give you two hours of training and that's it. No, what we're talking about here is like what they did in L.A.

In L.A. there is electrical training (inaudible) southern California, a labor management partnership, jointly sponsored by a union in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and a business coalition of private contractors. The training required is like -- is required under an apprenticeship model, requiring over 1,000 hours of classroom work and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training -- very rigorous program.

These are the kind of programs that are going to apply for the secretary seated here, in saying: Fund us. Fund us; we will train these women and men for these jobs. So this is not some -- this is not something we're just drawing money to the problem. This is a serious, serious undertaking. And I think the country is poised to take advantage of it.

Even graduates of this extensive training are eligible for constant upgrades and technological advances as things change. So two years, five years, 10 years from now, they're going to have to go back and re-train, because technology is going to move ahead of them. For example, a 30-hour course in photovoltaics was recently added to that L.A. school, L.A. training school.

And so, folks, it's important the cost of training, which is free to the participants, involves less than 10 percent of the public funding, the rest of it being paid by unions, contractors, business organizations, because they see the need for this. And by the way, in some of these programs, apprentices can be making $20 an hour; when they graduate, they can be making as much as $50 an hour in some of these undertakings.

Over 600 candidates, both older and younger, have completed that training course in L.A. We're going to replicate that all across America.

Investing in green jobs means two critical things for the middle- class families: one, more jobs to keep up the 21st-century needs; and lower energy costs; and I'd add a third -- a much cleaner environment.

First, jobs that pay more. According to the President's Counsel on Economic Adviser -- Council of Economic Advisers, green jobs will pay 10 to 20 percent more than other jobs of a similar nature; 10 to 20 percent more. And it also has, what I think personally is a great benefit, a number of them will be union jobs -- jobs that are less likely to be exported offshore. Building a new power grid, manufacturing solar panels, weatherizing homes and office buildings, renovating schools are just a few examples of ways in which we can create good-quality green jobs to strengthen our economy.

And secondly, more green jobs mean more money in the wallet of every American who engages in this at the end of the month. Weatherizing your home creates a job, but it also -- it also lowers your monthly bill, lowering the strain on your budget. And so the example -- as an example, there are 4,000 row houses right here in Philadelphia -- 4,000 -- excuse me, 400,000 -- I'm thinking Delaware -- (laughter) -- but I mean, 4,000 -- 400,000 -- what's a couple hundred thousand. But 400,000 row homes right here in Philadelphia that could be weatherized and made more efficient. Just doing that would lower household energy consumption by 20 to 40 percent, saving families hundreds of dollars a year and reducing the impact on the environment.

Folks, I'm joined here today by leading public officials. Senators Specter and Casey and Congressman Brady and Fattah, Governor Rendell, Mayor Nutter and a significant array of Cabinet officers. The administration officials under the new jurisdiction, many of these investments will be made. We have Secretary of the Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, who is -- applause) -- Secretary Steven Chu with the Department of Energy, who also happens to be a Nobel Laureate -- (applause); Secretary Donovan, from the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs -- (applause); Secretary Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, who is Department of Agriculture -- (applause); Secretary LaHood, former Congressman LaHood, in the Department of Transportation. (Applause). These secretaries are who -- are hard at work to making sure that this middle-class commitment that this administration has made are made stronger by this recovery.

They are gathered here today to hear from experts who have blueprints on how to get this right. And the stakeholders, the people who are actually getting money through the recovery act to create green jobs. And they're ready. Just yesterday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that nearly 75 percent of its funding, $10.1 billion, has been allocated to state and local governments for community development -- (applause) -- energy efficiency modernization of public housing.

And just today, in Chicago, 250 workers who had been laid off from a window plant are celebrating today, because they were bought by another country -- company, who will -- (laughter) -- Chicago was bought by Canada, no -- (laughter) -- excuse me, that were bought by another company who will build energy-efficient windows through weatherization. A representative from the company told The New York Times they saw an opportunity to expand their operations as a direct result of the money in the recovery package for weatherization: more jobs.

In a little while, Secretary Donovan and Secretary Chu are announcing the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the Department of Energy is joining forces to make a $16 billion -- make $16 billion in the recovery package eligible for retrofitting the existing housing -- $16 billion, a significant commitment, an investment -- (applause) -- investment that will build a whole energy efficiency industry in the United States that's going to create and retain tens of thousands of jobs, lower energy costs of vulnerable low-income households and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This partnership is exactly the type of leadership and ingenuity that we need to get this economy going again. So we're here. We're here to listen. We're here to learn. And first, I'd like to recognize my congressional colleagues to make a few brief statements. And then what I'd like to do is move to our first panel.

Senator Specter.

END.