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VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: (In progress) -- economy worsens, the need for a bold economic recovery package grows more urgent every day and more obvious, I think, to most of our colleagues and to the American people.
An awful lot of American families are hurting right now, as jobs are down by almost 2 million so far in this recession. Over 10 million people are officially unemployed, and millions more are unable to find enough work to keep their paychecks from slipping from from what they've been. And this deterioration in the nation's unemployment situation has led the president-elect to instruct our economic team, some of which are assembled here today, to raise the goal of our stimulus plan from 2.5 million jobs to 3 million new jobs to be created over the next two years.
I gather here with the team today to discuss just how we're going to meet this ambitious goal and our progress in assembling that plan for submission to the Congress. We got to face it. Economists rarely agree, but on this score there's overwhelming agreement that we need a robust and sustained economic recovery package. There's virtually no disagreement on that point, with economists from left to right agreeing that the greater threat to our economy lies in doing too little rather than in not doing enough.
This plan will be focused on making investments in health care, education and energy, among other areas, and it will be directed at critical investments in our nation's roads and our bridges. I know there's some talk about us investing in programs that are already in existence. Well, we've let our infrastructure crumble for a long, long time, from water to roads to bridges, and it makes sense to invest in them now.
It's also going to help some of the most economically vulnerable in our -- in this time of need, when through no fault of their own, they can't find the gainful employment that they're seeking. And it's going to provide a down payment on the tax relief that we promised for this trapped middle class.
Moreover, while our short-term goal is to start creating jobs as quickly as possible, at the same time, we plan to invest in areas like the smart grid, projects that will produce long-term benefits for the long-term health of our economy.
It's important for the American taxpayers to know that it's not -- I want to emphasize this, having served many years in the Senate: This is not going to be politics as usual, and we will not tolerate business as usual in Washington. There will be -- let me say it again -- there will be no earmarks in this economic recovery plan. I know it's Christmas. I know it's the Christmas season. But President- elect Obama and I are absolutely -- absolutely determined that this economic recovery package will not become a Christmas tree. Every dollar will be closely watched to make sure it's being used in an effective manner. We'll spend what we need to turn this economy around and no more.
The American taxpayers deserve to know that his or her tax dollar is going to be used wisely. And the American worker needs to know that help is actually on the way.
Over the next few days and weeks, we're going to continue to work with leaders of Congress to put together this economic recovery package. But again, the greater danger -- the greater danger is not in acting too quickly or too boldly, but rather in acting too slowly or too timidly.
Now I'd like to ask Larry Summers to make a few remarks.
MR. SUMMERS: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President.
At the president-elect's direction and at your direction, the economic team has been working with you to craft an approach to economic recovery that starts from two premises.
The first premise is that we're facing a serious economic crisis. We lost 500,000 jobs in November. Forecasters keep revising downwards their forecasts. Without substantial policy action, we would almost certainly face the worst economic downturn since the second world war. That's why it is imperative that we take action: to maintain demand, to maintain jobs, to maintain incomes in this economy.
At the same time that we have an output gap, the second premise from which we are operating is the premise that you and the president- elect outlined, in your campaign, that we face a substantial potential gap. The American economy is falling short of what it could be.
Forty-three percent of schools have facilities that have deteriorated, to the point where it interferes with education. Bridges and roads are in disrepair. The fraction of young Americans going to college now lags many other countries. Renewable energy projects are being put on hold because of the credit crunch. Our health care system is lagging, both in the number of people it reaches and the quality of the care that it provides.
In this crisis lies an opportunity: to create the jobs that Americans need, doing the work that America needs to be done. And so the economic recovery act that your representatives have been working with the congressional leadership on, Mr. Vice President, is a economic recovery act directed at achieving both of these objectives in a carefully strategic way.
There will be measures, to be sure, in a number of different areas. But we've been working very hard, to ensure that each of the investments undertaken will be carefully evaluated, before it is undertaken, to make sure that it is a rational investment, not simply a make-work project that in new ways with accountability, with the kind of transparency that the Internet makes possible, that investments will be monitored as they are undertaken and that after they have been undertaken, they will be evaluated, and there will be accountability for the success in carrying out those investments.
A strategic approach of this kind offers us the prospect of doing what we don't do frequently enough, doing two crucial things at once: putting people back to work, averting what would otherwise be a profound economic crisis, and at the same time laying a groundwork for America's future prosperity -- America's future prosperity not as an abstraction, but America's future prosperity for the benefit of the broad middle class of American families.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Thank you. Melody?
MS. BARNES: Well, thank you so much, Larry and Mr. Vice President-elect. Both of you have spoken to very, very important issues. Larry, you were talking about the number of jobs lost and the wages lost and the suffering. And Mr. Vice President-elect, you were talking about the same -- the vulnerable and the middle class that are suffering right now. And certainly our work goes to addressing those problems.
I mean, the middle class is in a crisis, and many are at risk, and a greater risk than they've been in over the last 50 years. I think we certainly spoke to many of those people during the months of the campaign, and we know the kind of suffering that they're facing. We are certainly not telling them anything new.
But what's important for us right now is to think about the problems that they are affected by -- a challenge to our health care system; the fact that they're trying to put their kids into college, figure out how to finance their education in a way and in a time that they've never confronted before, and doing that with flat wages and benefits that are either nonexistent or certainly decreasing.
And that's why we're really excited about the middle-class task force that you're going to lead, that you've been asked by the president-elect to lead, because we think it's an opportunity to turn crisis into opportunity; that we will see the chance to make a down payment and develop policies and ideas that will make a down payment on the investments that are so critical, the kinds of investment that Larry was just talking about, to make sure that hardworking families are rewarded and to ensure that we're also talking to them through this entire process, and using the best minds from across the Cabinet and out in civil society and hardworking families themselves to develop those ideas.
The president-elect has, as we all know, asked us to look at several different things; one, to focus on schools. And Larry, you were talking about the crumbling schools and the decay that many of our children are facing and the environment in which they're trying to learn. But we're going to go beyond just modernizing those school buildings, but also creating a 21st century learning environment in which they can have the tools and the technology to do the work that they need to do to become active citizens and participants in our labor market.
And I think, similarly, with health care, this is an important opportunity to make an investment and a down payment on what we need to have the most efficient and effective health care system in the world. We're not only going to focus on making sure that those who are losing their employer-based health care are supported, but we're also going to make investments like health care information technology to drive down costs, and we're at the same time going to make sure that preventative care is an important part of what we're doing. So we're again decreasing costs, but at the same time we're making sure that Americans are more healthy.
So those are going to be important components in what we're doing. Again, we're going to be working very, very closely with American people themselves, with the task force that you've set up, because, as Larry was mentioning and alluding to at the end of his comment, our best days are in fact ahead of us. We can take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity to make sure that the middle class and the vulnerable have the tools they need to succeed and that mobility and opportunity are in fact the hallmark of this administration.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: We can take three questions. Fire away.
Q Sir, will the Blagojevich report exonerate the transition team?
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Oh, I think the -- I don't think there's anything to exonerate. There's -- it's been clear that the president-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and/or anyone on his team; that he's asserted -- and you'll soon find in the report being released today that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich, and I think the report you'll see will reflect that this afternoon.
Q Mr. Vice President, you raised the -- you've raised the target of jobs from 2 1/2 million to 3 million, but what does that mean specifically about the size of the package and the content of the package to actually meet that target? And when do you expect to -- for us, when do we get to see what's in this?
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, you get to see what's in this package when we've completed the package and when we've negotiated a little bit more with our colleagues in the House and Senate. The truth of the matter is it's really important that this package, when submitted to the Hill, succeed and pass. It's the first and most urgent order of business for the new administration. And look, Secretary Summers has laid out pretty clearly what the main elements of this package are.
You know, let me put it slightly differently: If we did not have this economic recession and this crisis we're facing, the future prosperity of the country would still depend on us significantly improving our infrastructure, significantly improving our education system, significantly improving our health care and availability and cost of health care and significantly improving our energy circumstance.
So this is a place where every -- every successful administration in our history has taken crisis and turned it into an advantage. We need desperately to get this economy moving. We've got to create more jobs now. And we have, fortunately or unfortunately, a ready plate already set as to things we must do.
The most important thing that I want the taxpayers to understand, though, is that we -- these jobs that we are going to be creating are designed for not only the immediate impact of the creation of that job, but for the future prosperity of the country. And so whether it's infrastructure or education, as Melanie (sic) talked about, or energy, which we haven't talked about, they all have to be done. It creates an opportunity.
And in terms of going from 2 1/2 million to 3 million, that's a reflection of the deepening crisis. There's a need to do that, and we don't think it's going to require any significantly larger increase in investment to do that.
Q Mr. Vice President, sir, you said that you would have an agreement with the congressional leaders on at least the broad outlines of the stimulus by Christmas. Is there anything that you guys will be able to pull together by then, even the top-line numbers that your administration --
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, I think we're getting awful close to that. I'm not prepared to tell you, at this moment, that that's been done.
But there is -- look, the thing in my discussions, and I know that Phil has been working up on the Hill, with our colleagues, my former colleagues. I guess they're still my colleagues. (Laughter.) It's clear that we're all on the same page, including our Republican colleagues.
This has to be substantial. It has to create jobs immediately. And it has to have, as a considerable component of this, the feature of adding to the future prosperity of the country. And so we're all in the same ballpark. We're getting very close to an overall number. And we're getting very close to the specific kinds of investment.
By the way, I want to point out that the jobs we're creating, 85 percent of these jobs, will be private-sector jobs. We're not out there looking for make-work projects. As a matter of fact, you know, it's not just public works jobs. It's actually jobs, to coin a phrase from my friend, the former secretary, the guy leading this charge, it's jobs that will help the public.
So I think there's overall agreement on the scope -- right now we're getting down to the specific numbers -- and the nature of the investment we are going to be making. I have found and I'd ask Phil to correct me. But I have found no substantial disagreement on those two overriding principles.
And now the question is, we're making it clear to everyone that, no matter what the tendency in my former residence up on the Hill is, there will be no earmarks in this. There will be strict accountability here. And there also will be no Christmas Tree, notwithstanding the season.
Q Eight hundred billion.
VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: The answer is, I'm not prepared to give you an answer. But it will be substantial.
Thank you all very much.