Tales from the Trail

Joltin’ Joe Biden defends economic stimulus program

If you thought the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus program was meant to provide one big jolt to the economy, you’ve got it all wrong, Vice President Joe Biden says.

“The act was intended to provide steady support for our economy over an extended period — not a jolt that would last only a few months,” he wrote in an op-ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times.

More than a third of it is tax cuts for 95 percent of working Americans, he says. Another chunk of it goes for extended unemployment insurance and healthcare for those hardest hit by the recession.

GEORGIA-BIDEN/“The bottom line is that two-thirds of the Recovery Act doesn’t finance ‘programs,’ but goes directly to tax cuts, state governments and families in need, without red tape or delays,” Biden says.

The final third of the funds goes for infrastructure projects, including what the vice president calls the “largest investment in roads since the creation of the Interstate highway system.”

The First Draft: White House wooing comes in waves

OBAMA/It’s a busy day at the White House, with waves of lawmakers moving in for talks with President Barack Obama, in between a press statement and before a commencement address.

Wave One: House Democratic leaders — Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, both of California — come to discuss health care.

Wave Two: Senate leaders from both parties — Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, both Democrats, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama — talk with the president about a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

from MacroScope:

Watch out for the G20 spin

Be careful this week about buying wholeheartedy into any G20-related spin about supposedly savvy, free-spending Britain and America doing more to combat the world economic crisis than supposedly stubborn, overly cautious Germany and France. The actual figures show it is much more complex than that.

A Reuters calculation on discretionary fiscal stumuli and the International Monetary Fund's assessment show that, if anything, Britain is the significant laggard and that German spending almost matches the United States over the next two years. Here are the IMF's numbers (% of GDP):

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Biden to local officials: Don’t use stimulus money on stupid ideas

Vice President Joe Biden had some pointed advice Wednesday for state, county and city officials seeking guidance on spending the $787 billion in economic stimulus money approved by the U.S. Congress — don’t use it on stupid ideas.
“What is legal, what is authorized, may not be aUSA/ good thing to do,” the vice president told dozens of local officials gathered for a White House conference.
“So guys, no swimming pools, no tennis courts, no golf courses, no Frisbee parks,” Biden said, even if officials can document that the project will create jobs quickly, generate revenue and keep people working over the longer term.
“The answer is: No. No. No,” he said. “It’s got to pass the smell test folks.”
Then he gave the warning some teeth.
“Because of the rules, the president and I can’t stop you from doing some things. But I’ll show up in your city and say, ‘This is a stupid idea,’” Biden warned, drawing laughs.
“I’m serious. I’m absolutely serious,” he said. “Every single dollar of this money has to be used … in a way that is actually producing or keeping jobs from being lost and perceptually makes sense.”
Biden has reason for concern. The administration has been promising to be open and transparent about how the money is spent, with projects being posted on a website where they can be tracked by anyone with an interest, from journalists and bloggers to folks who live down the street from the work.
“We have to get this right,” Biden said. “We have got to demonstrate to the American public that we can husband their money and their investments in a way that in fact makes sense to them. This can’t be govenment as usual.”
Local officials attending the event said they appreciated being consulted by the White House so early in the process and liked the high level of coordination among government departments.
Brian Reilly, the economic development commissioner for Buffalo, New York, said it was unusual to have the departments of Energy, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development all talking together with local communities.
“This is fantastic at the city level because we are the place where all of those agencies come together. In the past they haven’t always been coordinated,” he said.
“By this type of early collaboration,” Reilly added, “we’re going to see a different kind of service delivery and different kinds of outcomes at the local level.”
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Biden speaking to local officials about economic recovery money)

First draft: Michael Phelps takes cue from politicians

Take note politicians. Michael Phelps might have some pointers for you.

PHELPS/He won eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, but swimmer Phelps sounded more like a politician than an athlete in a morning TV interview today — repeatedly admitting he had made mistakes but sidestepping any direct admission that he had smoked marijuana.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Phelps, who was banned from swimming for three months after a picture was published of of him smoking a “bong” pipe at a party last November, said he had made a “bad mistake”, a “stupid mistake” and showed “bad judgement.”

Asked directly if he had been smoking pot Phelps just said: “It was a bad mistake. I mean, we all know what, you know, what you and I are talking about. It’s a stupid mistake. You know, bad judgment. And it’s something that, you know, I have to, and I want to teach other people not to make that mistake.”

New York, California want rejected stimulus dough

Watch out Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, New York and California would love those dollars you turn down from the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
A few governors, namely Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, have all said that they may turn down some of the stimulus money for their states, particularly aid aimed at bolstering unemployment benefit programs.
“We can’t pay for the benefits already in the program, but to get the stimulus money, we’ve got to increase the program’s size and scale,” Sanford said on “Fox News Sunday”.
That has some other states hard hit by the deepening recession calling for the money to be sent their way, especially New York where Wall Street has been laying off workers by the thousands.MARKETS-STOCKS/
“If any governor — Democrat or Republican — leaves stimulus money on the table, then we respectfully request that funds be distributed to New York,” the state’s two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, said in a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday.
Another New York lawmaker, Representative Anthony Weiner, plans to offer legislation that would redirect rejected stimulus funds to other states. 
“If some governors decide to reject the money, 45 other states should be able to use it to create thousands of jobs. We have plenty of projects across the country that will put people to work and help achieve long term economic growth and stability,” Weiner said in a statement.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Segar (Wall Street in New York City.)

Where’s the money?


Want to know what the government is really doing with the $787 billion in the new economic stimulus package?

Turn to www.recovery.gov and start surfing. The newly launched website, run by a team of representatives from various federal agencies, was set up to track the money approved as part of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act”.

One link takes you to a U.S. map and by moving the mouse and placing the cursor over a state, you can see how many jobs are supposed to be created. Right now the map has an “estimated job effect” for each state but it will be updated as jobs materialize.

First draft: commerce conundrum

How many people does President Barack Obama have to nominate before he finally gets a Commerce Secretary? He himself doesnt seem to know — he even suggested reaching back in time and tapping Abraham Lincoln for the job.

But for live candidates, so far it’s two and counting. One close ally (Bill Richardson), one RepublicaUSA/n who seemed — initially —  willing to work with the Democratic president (Judd Gregg). At least until yesterday when he changed his mind.

That left Obama, who was visiting the land of Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, on Thursday, to muse that the 16th president might be sitting somewhere “maybe wondering if someone might call him up and ask him to be commerce secretary.”

First draft: Obama celebrates Lincoln


President Barack Obama takes a little break today in his roadshow to sell his economic stimulus package to honor one of his heroes: Abraham Lincoln.

It’s Lincoln’s 200th birthday and Obama will mark it by giving speeches at the U.S. Capitol and at the Abraham Lincoln Association banquet in Springfield, Illinois.

In between the two he will stop in Peoria, Illinois to visit a factory owned by heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, Inc, which may be able to rehire some laid-off workers if the $789 billion stimulus package is approved.

If it’s Wednesday, this must be infrastructure day

In case you weren’t paying attention, Wednesday was infrastructure day at the White House.

President Barack Obama went to the Virginia suburbs to look at a road, Vice President Joe Biden went to Pennsylvania to look at a bridge and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stayed in Washington and met dozens of state transportation officials.

USA-OBAMA/“Look around us. Look at this construction site, right where we’re standing,” Obama said during a visit to the unfinished Fairfax County Parkway in Springfield, Virginia. “We’re surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business.”