A bridge too far

It’s been a few days since we checked in on one of President Biden’s appearances and remarks. Yesterday the White House staged a “Meeting with Inspectors General to Discuss his Long-Standing Commitment to Oversight, Accountability, and Transparency When Delivering Results for All Americans,” as the caption on the White House video puts it. Biden spoke after several of those in attendance made remarks that he seemed to follow in a notebook in front of him.

The White House transcript of Biden’s remarks begins in medias res at about 7:30 of the video and omits the mind-numbing comments of those who spoke before Biden’s own mind-numbing comments. Biden began with a walk down memory lane that set the theme of his remarks:

When you’re — these are some of the — the Recovery Act was about $900 billion and the President used to always — President Obama used to like to always kid with me when he did the State of the Union message. He’d never tell me what he was going to say because I presided over the — the joint session as Vice President. And when we — it was a big gamble to decide we were going to spend $900 billion trying to get the economy back on its feet.

And the President said, “And, by the way, we’re going to make sure I’m turning it over to Joe.” And he started calling me “Sheriff Joe.” Well, the first thing I did was go to Earl Devaney and other inspectors general and said, “Look, we’re going to need a lot of work here.”

Because, look, the one thing I’ve learned — and you did when you were the mayor — and — is that people expect us to do what we say, and they don’t always get what they expect from elected officials.

He seemed challenged to recall Obama’s name, but more to the point: what was Biden talking about? Even students of ancient history may be challenged to recall the $900 billion to which Biden referred.

Biden was alluding to the unnamed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that authorized “stimulus” spending to launch “shovel-ready” projects in the name of bringing back the good times. The pitch was “shovel-ready,” the projects not so much.

It didn’t take long for sentient observers to note the failure of the bill to perform as advertised. By 2010, despite, or perhaps because of, the supervision of “Sheriff Joe,” Obama acknowledged that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Michael Barone drew a slightly different lesson from the spending fiasco:

The $787 billion stimulus package passed in February [Ed.: It turned out to be closer to $900 billion], we were told, would hold unemployment down to 8 percent. It reached 9.5 percent in June, and economists of all political stripes believe[d] it w[ould] rise further.

Obama let congressional appropriators write the stimulus package, and they larded it with pet projects that w[ould]n’t come on line for years.

This was predictable–and widely predicted. Obama let congressional appropriators write the stimulus package, and they larded it with pet projects that won’t come on line for years. Immediate deficit dollars were channeled to state and local governments, to insulate public employee unions from the sharp edges of the recession. Obama might have set down markers to Congress, insisting that a larger share of funds be spent much sooner. He declined to do so.

By 2012, Obama jocularly put it this way: “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” Yuk yuk.

Where had you gone, Sheriff Joe? Our nation turned its lonely eyes to you.

According to Biden speaking yesterday, however, that $900 billion bill “was heralded as one of the most well-run programs in American history, in terms of size, scope, and did it do what it said it was going to do.” Anthony Randazzo’s 2013 study of the act for Reason concluded “Stimulus jobs vanish!”

Yesterday’s show had a point. The point was that the gusher of federal spending Biden has unleashed will be well spent — on dilapidated bridges and the like — to achieve the advertised purpose. The history that Biden vaguely recalled at the outset of his remarks does not exactly support the proposition. Sheriff Joe, “What’s past is prologue” would be more like it.

Quotable quote: “No, I’m not joking. I — I really mean it.”

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