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The White House

Opening remarks by the Vice President at the economic recovery implementation meeting with Cabinet members

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release                                                        October 1, 2009
September 30, 2009
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Again, thank you all for coming. As I said, I know you're all equally as busy as I am. But it's good to have you all here again.
Look, let me begin by thanking you all. I don't -- I've made an awful lot of trips out there around the country, seeing if we're implementing this Recovery Act well. But the other part of it is you all have made multiple trips. And a couple of you have made a few trips overseas that had nothing to do with the Recovery Act, trying to help us put in place a foreign policy that will work on the civilian side. So I know you've been busy as heck. And I really do appreciate it.
One of the things you've accomplished so far is -- we started this Recovery Act process, what, seven months ago? And there were an awful lot of skeptics. Even people who knew we had to stimulate the economy were still skeptical of whether or not this vehicle, $787 billion divided up in terms of making sure we keep people from falling into that black vortex by doing everything from extending unemployment insurance to health insurance, et cetera, and all the way to beginning to build sort of new platforms for an economic recovery. So as we come out of this, we come out of this stronger.
And there were an awful lot of skeptics. But what you've done so far -- and I really mean it, what you've done so far -- is you have made an awful lot of believers. There's a number of independent validators out there now. On the macro side, you have a number of folks on Wall Street and in the financial community -- and Christy knows better than anybody -- than anyone, because she's been leading this effort, acknowledging that I think it was the second quarter, Christy, that something like 2.2 percent of the GDP was attributable to this; third quarter, 3.3 or thereabouts. You have everyone out there, among the professional economists and the econometric model that are being used, acknowledging we've created what we said we would create, actually a little more than we were -- we said we'd be able to create in the first 200 days, we think over a million jobs. Even independent validators say it's somewhere between 750 and a million.
So the point is that you've done two really, really, really, really important things. The first hundred days, everyone said this is going to get screwed up here. What's going to happen is there's going to be -- we're not going to be able to deliver this money without it being wasted, we're not going to be able to get this underway. Well, that's a dog that didn't bite, because of all of you, and because you were hands-on. I know when you signed on to be Cabinet members, just like when I signed on to be Vice President, I didn't think I'd be on the phone once a week, every week, with governors and mayors talking about specific projects, trying to negotiate -- as I've asked some of you to do between governors and mayors -- as to how the money is allocated and so on and so forth, but -- and being able to respond.
I know all except the governors around here probably had apoplexy when I said we got to get an answer within 24 hours to every single solitary question from the field, or if we can't -- don't have the answer, call them in 24 hours and tell them why we don't have the answer and when we'll get it. Well, again, I don't want to exaggerate this, but you really have taken this to a place where there is a consensus -- even in the public now, a consensus that this is an important undertaking. But we're only -- we're only part of the way -- we used to use a metaphor, I don't know, the 9-mile mark on a marathon or whatever it is. I forget what -- where we are exactly.
MR. DeSEVE: That's it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But the point is we've got a long way to go, but you got us off to a good start. We're about to now come into a place, because of the work that was done by Earl Devaney and the overseeing board here that watches everything we're doing, as they should, to make sure we're keeping our commitment to transparency and accountability. There's a new Web site going up today. It is pretty incredible. Talk about transparent. I don't think -- in my years in government there's been nothing this transparent where the press and average citizens can go and find out in the first phase here exactly what are we doing with our money. We said this. Are we doing it? They can click on -- they can go to 7th and Vine in their small town and found out whether or not that crosswalk we said we were building is actually being built. That's the good news. The bad news is they can go to 7th and Vine -- (laughter) -- and find out whether that crosswalk being built is actually being built, which gets me to a second place here.
There's -- and that is that, in a sense, I've asked you all to do something that's beyond your job description. And I acknowledge it. But this is a very unusual, unusual moment in our -- in our history. And we've never decided to spend almost a trillion dollars to try to jump-start the economy. And so I've asked you to do things that we haven't had to do before. And that is to follow the dollar in a way that it's not our -- you can't control once you let -- once you obligate to a state for a water project, you can't control -- you don't have the authority to tell the governor when that contract has to be let. What happens is he doesn't get any money, or she doesn't get any money until they send in the bill. They can't send in the bill until they let the contract, and then get a bill from the contractor that it's time to get paid for the first month.
Well, part of our responsibility is -- and this is why I know I'm asking more than is reasonable, is we've got to be, and I am prepared to be, in the face of governors or mayors or whomever if we've obligated the money and we ain't received a bill, it means something isn't going on. And this is all about getting this -- not only doing our traditional job, making sure whatever we're approving is by the numbers; what we're approving is in fact totally within the parameters of the law; what we're approving is a project that makes sense and is going to be looked at closely before we pay for it, but we have to go a step further. We have to go a step further and find out whether the classroom is actually being built -- that's usually not our responsibility -- because we got to get this moving, we got to create these jobs. We've got to get out there and begin to change people's lives in their communities.
So, anyway – so, again, I apologize for being such a nag with you all the time, because you've done such an incredible -- I really mean it, you've done an incredible job. I've been around for a lot of Cabinets. I've not seen one this responsive ever to what -- the needs out there beyond the beltway.
Now, today one of the things that I asked you all to do -- and, by the way, I didn't even have to ask you, you all suggested before I asked several weeks ago -- is we had a goal the first hundred days; we had a goal the second hundred days; and I've asked you to lay out your goals for the next three months, taking us through the end of December 31st.
And so we're going to be talking today about just what some of those goals that you've laid out, just to get -- just to illustrate for the press that's in here today. Just to mention a few that have come in: battery and hybrid electric cars. By the end of the year, the Energy Department will have put in place funding for battery manufacturing plants that can power 400,000 plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles each year, reducing our demand for foreign oil and cleaning up the air we breathe. That's the goal the Department of Energy set. That's the goal we're confident we can meet. And that would be a big deal. And we're going to hold ourselves accountable.
I can't ever remember any group of departments saying, "Hold me accountable for what I'm telling you I'm going to do the next hundred days, or the next three months; providing assistance to small business. The Small Business Administration will provide and leverage $5 billion in capital to more than 12,000 small businesses through two key lending programs in the next 90 days. You're biting off a big chunk here, but that's $5 billion in capital being leveraged so that we can have 12,000 small businesses, through two programs, unlocking investments necessary for small businesses to play what we all know as the vital role. Most of the jobs are created by small businesses.
And another example of the goal we received was from HUD and Agriculture: housing, loans, and rehabilitation. By the end of the year, AG and HUD will have provided housing loans and capital funding to build or rehabilitate almost 100,000 housing units in rural and urban America. Not only is that providing jobs, not only is that stimulating the economy, we're actually in the process going to be like -- make life better for people, actually changing their circumstance.
And so, again, this is just a sampling of the goals we've set. I want to talk more about it here. What we're down to now is -- we talk in -- you guys don't, but we're accustomed in Washington to talk in Washington-speak. The thing I love about all of you, you're all new enough to know no one speaks Washington-speak in this outfit. But we're talking about making sure that we've obligated 60 percent of the CBO estimated $499 billion in the Recovery Act. Translated, that means, hey, look, $787 billion -- close to $500 billion of that is for the things we control. What happens is the rest of that is basically in tax -- on the tax side of the equation.
Now, again, remember the thing we had to wrestle with in the beginning? Everybody thought this was $787 billion worth of public works projects. We finally broke through that and made clear, through Christy's leadership, about how this is actually -- and people, once they begin to understand the act, they went, oh, okay, now I get it. And it's working.
But I -- we've made a deal, and you are meeting it, that of the roughly $499 billion -- roughly $500 billion of the act that we -- you "obligate" -- you go out there and say, here's the money you have to spend in state X, Y, Z, and in certain localities. We're going to actually -- you will have, by the end of the year, obligated 60 percent of that. Because remember what the criticism was, we're not going to get this out quick enough. We're not going to get it in the hands of people who can use it. We're not going to -- well, you're doing it. You've done it the first 200 days.
And so it seems to me that -- that we're in a position to now sort of nail down the progress that we've made the first 200-plus days now. And I think, quite frankly, the only way we can be sure we're filling the pledges -- to go back to what I mentioned before and I'll end with this -- is that we got to go beyond what is ordinarily our charge here. And you guys are doing it, but you got to -- we have some really talented, professional government people who work under you and through one administration and another and they're really good. They're the pros. They're a bureaucracy that we need to function. But it is -- they're not used to you saying to them, by the way, don't just tell me what you obligated, tell me if you haven't received a bill from the state which you obligated -- something ain't happening. Something is not happening.
So the only way we can be sure we're filling our pledge is to make sure this remains transparent and accountable. And I recognize all the effort you have put in place to try to give guidelines to the states and localities who are -- and independent outfits that are reporting in beginning October 1st. There's going to be some glitches there, because unlike even what we demand of corporations, they are having to report everything out there that's obligated and/or spent. We're not going to have the time to scrub it as closely as you ordinarily would, but that you guys are going to be doing, and they're going to be doing as well.
And so, by the end of October, when the 30 days are up, we're going to have a pretty -- or we have to have an absolute, precise accounting as to what we've done. But in the meantime, it's going to get -- we're going to find there may be a little bit missed between the cup and the lip here, because in fairness to the localities, they're not going to have time to go back once it's filed and within the first 24 hours find out whether everything, every I is dotted and every T is crossed, but that's what we're going to do.
So you're keeping our pledge. I'd like to now get into some detail about how we're going to do each of these, what the other projects, what the other goals for -- each of you have set out. You've all given them to me and I want to talk a little bit about it, okay.