VOL. 131 | NO. 36 | Friday, February 19, 2016
Biden Praises Benefits of 2009 Stimulus Package at Rail Yard
By Bill Dries
For 36 years Vice President Joe Biden was an Amtrak train commuter, traveling an estimated 2 million miles in his daily trips to Washington D.C. as a U.S. senator from Delaware.
So when he arrived at the Memphis Regional Intermodal Facility in Rossville Wednesday, Feb. 17, Biden’s photo-op with workers at the Norfolk Southern rail yard before his speech became a long walk to the podium.
Biden stopped at several points between a long line of stacked intermodal containers several blocks long where the containers are loaded onto and off of train cars.
By the west side of the stage were two Norfolk Southern locomotives. And green intermodal containers formed the other two sides of the area where Biden came to tout part of the legacy of the Obama administration, which has 10 months left in office.
He claimed the resurgence in manufacturing and the accompanying growth in logistics for the stimulus, formally known as the American Recovery and Investment Act – signed into law by President Barack Obama seven years ago this week.
“The short-term objective was to rescue the economy,” Biden said. “The long-term objective was to change the direction of the country and build a 21st century economy and a 21st century infrastructure.”
He noted the $814 billion in federal spending was “larger than the entire New Deal or the entire history of the New Deal” – a reference to the federal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt to combat the Great Depression in the 1930s.
“It had to be spent, if it was going to do its job well, and within 18 months,” Biden said, noting that federal funding for such infrastructure development often leveraged much larger amounts of private investment.
The Memphis facility, along with a companion Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in Birmingham, Alabama, received about $105 million in federal stimulus funding that leveraged a $2.5 billion investment by Norfolk Southern in its “Crescent Corridor” strategy of linking the northeastern section of the country with the Southeast and, in particular, the ports in the Southeast.
Norfolk Southern’s 380-acre site just north of the Mississippi state line is next to the 1,600-acre Gateway Global Logistics Center by Panattoni Development Co. that straddles the state line and the 3,600-acre Chickasaw Trial Industrial Park on the Mississippi side of the line.
Biden noted the recent economic activity that has included the Volvo Truck Group plant on the other side of U.S. Highway 72 from the Mississippi entrance to Norfolk Southern’s facility.
All of the different players in the area tout room for expansion.
Biden said that continued expansion is essential to the continued growth of the middle class in America.
“The middle class has been crushed, folks,” Biden said. “For all the recovery, we still haven’t made sure the middle-class wages have kept pace.”
Biden argued that the country’s infrastructure is still inadequate and touted its renovation as the way to grow the country’s middle class.
The administration’s immediate purpose in the stimulus, Biden said, was to recover from the worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression.
“But in the process we also saw a chance to lay a new foundation for competitiveness and sustainability in the United States of America,” he said.
Accompanying Biden on the visit were U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez.
The intermodal yard in Fayette County just north of the Mississippi state line in the Gateway Global Logistics Center was the second of three stops Wednesday and Thursday by Biden with the stimulus as the theme.
Before Memphis, Biden was at the Port of New Orleans. He was to wrap up the tour at the Union Depot in St. Paul, Minnesota, Thursday.
His Memphis remarks were loaded with statistics on miles of rail, millions of shipments and hundreds of millions of dollars. They were lighter on politics in this election year.
But the visit came as early voting is underway in the March 1 Tennessee presidential primaries. Minnesota holds it presidential caucuses on the March 1 election day here and the Louisiana primaries are March 5.
Biden didn’t refer to the primaries or the presidential general election campaign after the summer conventions.
But he did note Republican opposition to the stimulus and the European Union’s decision to pass on a similar stimulus response to Europe’s own economic downturn.
“Some of my friends on the other team talk about ‘stimulus’ as a dirty word,” Biden said. “Well guess what? The EU decided not to engage in stimulus. Where are they now? Remember, you business people out there, how the EU was going to eat our lunch. Come on guys, this is working.”