Biden touts stimulus package in St. Cloud visit

Biden in St. Cloud
Vice President Joe Biden speaking today at a town hall-style meeting in St. Cloud.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The location of the event at the New Flyer Bus plant was not a coincidence. Standing before several different models of New Flyer's buses, Biden told the audience that the company is doing something that most businesses aren't right now -- hiring. He said the company added more than 90 people last year.

"This company is an example for the future," Biden told the crowd. "We want to invest, not just in getting people jobs right now. What we want to do is lay a foundation for the 21st Century. Lay a foundation in areas that will allow us to grow in ways that will allow us to continue not only in America but lead in the world."

Biden and the Obama Administration are using New Flyer as an example of how the economic stimulus will work.

New Flyer
The New Flyer Bus Co. in St. Cloud, site of a visit today by Vice President Joe Biden.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Biden suggested that the billions in economic stimulus should prompt city and state governments to expand their transit fleets, giving New Flyer a bump in business. New Flyer CEO Paul Soubry said he was confident that $787 billion federal stimulus will help turn the entire economy around.

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"We are betting as a company on the economy, on the recovery plan of the Obama and Biden Administration and all of the things that you're trying to do," Soubry said. "You can count on our unequivocal support to be faster, cheaper and build better buses for our customers throughout the United States."

With unemployment on the rise and many more worried about their job security, Biden and four other members of the Obama Administration also tried to reassure the public that the economy will turn around. The Education Secretary described how the stimulus will lower class sizes and help make college affordable. The Transportation Secretary said the money will help put hard hats to work and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development said he was working to fix the subprime mortgage meltdown.

Throughout the nearly two-hour meeting, Biden and other members of the administration described how the stimulus works, referred people to a Web site detailing where the stimulus money is going and laid out other plans to help rebuild the struggling economy.

"American people aren't afraid. You're not afraid," Biden said. "You know there's no easy [solution] to these problems. What we're going to try to do for you is tackle them head on. Tell you the truth and try to find a roadmap that is a way out and over this time."

Joe Biden listens to a question
Vice President Joe Biden listens to a question from the audience during a town hall meeting in St. Cloud, Minn.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

Many of those who asked questions were people who will benefit from the stimulus. Government officials, the head of St. Cloud's Technical College and the superintendent of St. Cloud Schools all wanted to know stimulus specifics. Others called for the Northstar Commuter Rail Line, which starts running later this year, to be extended to St. Cloud.

After the event, several audience members said they were confident that the economy will turn around. Mike Scherer owns a trucking company with his wife and sons in St. Joseph. He and his wife, Ann, said they're hopeful the stimulus money will improve the economy.

"It's going to help bring our workforce back because if I get busy I'll hire more people," Mike Scherer said.

His wife agreed.

"It will help quite a bit," Ann said. "Everybody is going to have to put their own self into it to make it work."

DFL Senator Amy Klobuchar, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and other elected officials attended the event. Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was noticeably absent. Bachmann, who represents St. Cloud and surrounding areas, has been a fierce critic of the stimulus bill and President Obama's policies in general. She continued that criticism this morning when she expressed doubt that the stimulus will have a lasting effect.

"My concern in the stimulus is that many of the jobs that will be created will be government jobs, and by definition, are only going to be short term jobs," Bachmann said. "So I'm concerned that we'll be creating a job bubble so to speak, and it may hurt the private sector in the long run because of the massive tax increases that will be required because of this bill."

Bachmann has said low taxes and less government intervention are the best way to stimulate the economy.