By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Vice President Joe Biden was back in Denver Tuesday touting the middle class and the rise of “green collar” jobs for Americans hit hardest by the economic recession.
Standing on a stage at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science alongside a slew of administration Cabinet members, Biden used the 90-minute, town-hall-style meeting to promote the latest development in the president’s economic stimulus package.
In addressing the group of 200 or so Coloradans, which included many Democratic bigwigs, Biden talked up the package’s impact on the new energy sector and reiterated the pledge that the legislation will create 450,000 new jobs for the middle class.
Biden, joined by Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, also announced a plan to dedicate nearly $4 billion of Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan to make housing more energy efficient and to devote another $500 million to green-collar job-training grants.
Biden said investing in public housing would improve livability, increase energy efficiency for residents and businesses, create jobs and save people money on their energy bills.
“This has energy — no pun intended,” Biden said in his familiar ebullient tone. “This has energy to it. These are real, live jobs for a real, live future.”
Biden also called on the Council for Environmental Quality to report back to a White House Task Force in 90 days with proposals that build on the foundation laid in the stimulus package to expand green opportunities and energy savings for the middle class.
Such proposals could include expanding retrofitting of commercial buildings, making American homes more energy efficient and developing better tools to help people find jobs in the environmental sector.
Reiterating a message that Democrats nationwide have been promoting, Biden said the new energy jobs, such as those being created by such Colorado-based companies as Ascent Solar and Vestas Wind Co., can stabilize the job market for blue-collar Americans and offer a route back to economic stability.
“But, in order to do that, we need to reinvigorate our flagging manufacturing sector, usher in a new era of environmental efficiency, support small business and intensively rebuild our infrastructure,” Biden said.
“We need to build a secure economic future for the 21st century built on a different foundation than the 20th century,” he continued. “This administration wants to make sure that we are leading the way on the new global economy that will focus on clean energy.”
The announcement of the new green spending plan marked the second major policy event the Obama administration has held at the Denver museum. The museum also was the setting in February, as, amid much fanfare, Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package, which will be the source of the $500 million in green energy funding Biden announced this week.
“It’s good to be back here,” Biden said as he took the stage. “It’s great to be talking about ‘green’ in a city that has been on the forefront of that movement before it was fashionable.”
But, the visit was not just about touting the new energy aspects of the stimulus package.
Standing with high-power Democrats including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Sen. Michael Bennet, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Speaker of the Colorado House Terrance Carroll, state Senate President Brandon Shaffer, and former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, Biden said the stimulus money was designed not just to create jobs and jumpstart a lagging economy, but to usher in a policy change that will fundamentally change the nation’s economic foundation.
“Think about this,” Biden said. “No government in the history of the world has had an allocation of nearly a trillion dollars to fundamentally change the way we think about economic growth. But that is what we are doing.”
That goal doesn’t sound good to everyone. Skeptics include Colorado Republican Chair Dick Wadhams.
Wadhams said Obama and the Democrats have talked a lot about the value of the stimulus package, which he said is unfairly putting future generations into debt, but they have yet to really deliver on their promises to improve the country and the economy.
“There have been stories lately that very limited amounts of this stimulus package money is being spent,” Wadhams said. “So I think the rosy scenario that was painted by Vice President Biden … is in sharp contrast to how the stimulus package is impacting the overall economy.”
Wadhams also said the Democrats are trying to have it both ways by ushering in legislation that reduces energy consumption, then passing policy that will increase the cost of energy for Americans.
“I think their rhetoric doesn’t match the reality,” Wadhams said.
“Here they are touting the stimulus package and bailout bills that are adding to the national debt that future generations will pay, while at the same time proposing a cap and a trade bill that will ultimately increase the amount that families pay for energy costs — which will go through the roof with these proposals,” he continued.
“So, on one hand, they are talking about helping the middle class while, on the other, they are proposing policy that will make it harder for the middle class to make a living.”
While in Denver, Biden attended a private fundraiser at the Denver Country Club held by Sally Gart and attended by former Colorado State University president Al Yates and David Kenney, a political consultant for Gov. Bill Ritter, among others. Biden spoke at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.