Vice President Joe Biden bashed congressional intransigence and Wall Street insensitivity on Wednesday, and argued that the best way to pass President Obama’s American Jobs Act is to go over the heads of Congress and make a pitch to the American people.
Biden, speaking the newseum at the Washington Ideas Forum sponsored by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute, argued that the jobs act was the government’s best option for giving the domestic economy a boost now. “We should focus on the things that we can control,” he said of the global economic crisis.
But the best way to pass the bill, he said, is to make the case to the American people — not to congressional leadership.
The vice president stressed his close personal relationship with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and his respect for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But he said that trying to cut deals with the GOP leadership just won’t work, because of deep divisions within the House Republican caucus.
The president “does have a partner in the bulk of the leadership, but they are seriously hamstrung,” Biden said.
Biden said that, in his personal opinion, a much bigger deficit-reduction deal would have been reached if the terms of the debt-ceiling agreement had been up to just the president, vice president, and House Republican leadership. The larger deal reached by Biden and congressional leaders failed because “they could not sell it” to their caucuses, he said.
“My view is that their party is not the Republican Party we all know — that you can sit down with and say, 'OK, this is a deal. Can you deliver?' ” Biden said.
So the only way to break congressional gridlock is to go “over the heads of Congress to the American people,” he said. Obama has been traveling across the country in recent weeks, pitching his jobs plan to the public since he introduced it last month.
Biden acknowledged that the recession will make reelection a tough slog for the president. “The fact of the matter is that the American people are dissatisfied,” he said. “That all by itself is enough to make you the underdog.”
But the vice president said he believes that the public recognizes that without the actions taken by the Obama administration, the recession would have been worse. He said the ideas the Republican Party has brought to the table — reducing regulation on businesses and reducing taxes — merely repeat the Bush policies that led to economic collapse in the first place.
The vice president pointed to the Occupy Wall Street protests and the outcry over Bank of America’s new $5 monthly fee on debit-card use as manifestations of the same frustration: a sense that the social contract has been broken.
The “core” of the Occupy Wall Street protests, Biden said, is a feeling that “the bargain has been breached with the American people.” He likened the demonstrations to tea party protests against the bank bailout, saying that both pointed to a public perception that the wealthy have received special treatment in this recession, while the middle class has suffered.
The taxpayers bailed out the big banks, Biden said, and now the banks have turned around and are slamming middle-class people with additional fees. “At a minimum, they’re incredibly tone deaf,” Biden said of Bank of America. “At a maximum, they are not paying their fair share.”
Biden said that he supports the higher surtax on millionaires that the Senate is considering weaving into the American Jobs Act. He called his support for a more-progressive income tax rate "the Reagan rule," noting that Reagan supported higher tax rates for millionaires than for bus drivers.
Biden said that while “absolutely” the Republican nominee will be strong enough to win in 2012, he’s confident that the American people will back President Obama.
If the president had been elected just a month later, Biden said, it would be clearer to the American people that the Wall Street crash and subsequent recession was Bush’s fault, not Obama's. Biden said that, leaving the euphoric inauguration, the president joked, “Joe, we’ve bought in too high.”
This article appears in the October 6, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.