A Look Back At How Joe Biden Managed The 2009 Stimulus Package Joe Biden was instrumental in getting the 2009 recovery act through Congress, then supervised the stimulus for the Obama administration. How might that experience shape how he would govern?

A Look Back At How Joe Biden Managed The 2009 Stimulus Package

A Look Back At How Joe Biden Managed The 2009 Stimulus Package

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Joe Biden was instrumental in getting the 2009 recovery act through Congress, then supervised the stimulus for the Obama administration. How might that experience shape how he would govern?


In 2009, like today, the country faced economic peril. Back then, Congress passed a stimulus package that cut taxes, expanded unemployment support and more. The 2009 Recovery Act cost around $800 billion, and the person put in charge of overseeing how a lot of that money was spent was the country's new vice president, Joe Biden. Now as Biden seeks the presidency, his handling of that crisis could shape whether voters think he's up to the job of handling this one. NPR's Asma Khalid has more.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: On the day Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act in February 2009, he explicitly thanked Joe Biden for working behind the scenes to make the legislation possible. When Biden took the mic, he acknowledged the economy was in a downward spiral.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Last year, our economy lost 3 million jobs; 600,000 more just this last month.

KHALID: And he promised a recovery.


BIDEN: We're here today to start to turn that around.

KHALID: President Obama signed the bill, but then he swiftly handed all the supervision over to his vice president. Here's Obama describing Biden's new role.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As part of his duty, Joe will keep an eye on how precious tax dollars are being spent. To you, he's Mr. Vice President, but around the White House, we call him the sheriff.

KHALID: Former aides say Biden took it personally if any stimulus dollars were wasted. Ron Klain was his chief of staff at the time.

RON KLAIN: We put a real big emphasis on the Recovery Act in transparency and accountability.

KHALID: Estimates show around 1% of the roughly $800 billion was ever attributed to waste or fraud. Klain says being accountable also meant being efficient.

KLAIN: He held meetings with the Cabinet as a whole, the various agencies that are part of this, every other week to try to make sure we were moving quickly.

KHALID: The vice president traveled the country to see stimulus projects in action. And every week, he held phone calls with a rotating group of bipartisan governors and mayors.

KLAIN: The vice president insisted that the recovery implementation office that reported to him, they had what he called the 24-hour rule, which is any question that a governor or mayor raised got an answer within 24 hours.

KHALID: Biden's real role was kind of opaque to people outside the White House. He occasionally gave press updates, but Jason Furman, who was the deputy director of the National Economic Council at the time, says that wasn't really what he did.

JASON FURMAN: He wasn't even that much the public face of the Recovery Act. He was really almost behind the scenes making sure it actually worked.

MICHAEL STEEL: The impression from our end was that the vice president's role was something of a joke.

KHALID: That last voice is Michael Steel, a former aide to John Boehner, who, at the time, was the Republican leader in the House.

STEEL: Calling him Sheriff Joe and promising rigorous oversight of this program, it frankly symbolized that the president's priority, his attention, had shifted immediately to health care.

KHALID: This was around the time that President Obama was starting to push for the Affordable Care Act. On the Recovery Act, Steel was peeved with the Obama administration as a whole. He says it did not court Republicans as much as it should have. Not a single Republican in the House signed on. Democrats insist they did try to court Republicans and, in fact, won over a few in the Senate thanks to Biden. But the lack of GOP support in the House had side effects. Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, says it made the Democrats more exposed to Republicans screaming about every dollar that didn't go right. And he says that affected how the Democrats implemented the stimulus.

DOUG HOLTZ-EAKIN: So what did they do? They get more careful, which is at odds with recovery. You want to get the money out the door. It's an open question whether the vice president could have done something about that. But that's what he had to live with.

KHALID: The question now is what this all means for the current moment. Jared Bernstein was Biden's chief economist during the Recovery Act.

JARED BERNSTEIN: He may be the most battle-tested president from the perspective of implementing stimulus plans than, you know, anyone I can think of.

KHALID: Even Holtz-Eakin, who thinks the 2009 stimulus was flawed, did not take issue directly with Biden. In fact, as critical as he was of the Recovery Act itself, he told me Biden's experience could be advantageous in our current times.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think it's an asset. He can now in his head think, OK, we've got $360 billion at the SBA. And we've got $500 billion over at Treasury. They're going to have this list of problems. And he knows that.

KHALID: The election in November may very well be decided by how President Trump handles the current crisis and its aftermath. As his likely Democratic opponent, Biden's campaign fully intends to put his record up as an alternative.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

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