President Biden boasted Friday that he was known as “Sheriff Joe” during the Obama administration when he was put in charge of supervising stimulus spending, and said he wants to protect against waste and fraud in administering his just-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Biden opened his third cabinet meeting by claiming that he excelled at administering the $862 billion in funds in 2009 — not mentioning that the legislation became infamous for “shovel ready” projects that actually were slow to start and the Solyndra scandal in which a politically connected solar panel maker got a $535 million loan guarantee, then went bust.
“It was determined that it had less than .2 percent waste or fraud, period,” Biden boasted. “I was — that’s how I became known, the president started calling me ‘Sheriff Joe,’ President Obama at the time, because I made a point every day to stay on top of how exactly the money was spent, what projects were being built, what projects were not being built and how it was functioning.”
“It was one of the most efficient implementations of a major program in modern American history,” he added.
As he reminisced about his time as vice president, the maskless Biden was seated in the Cabinet Room between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, both of whom kept their faces covered.
“It is my intention to speak to it that the act we just passed and that we are going to sign on Monday meets the same standard,” the president said. “We owe it to the American people to make sure the money in this infrastructure plan and the Build Back Better plan, which God willing we’re going to be able to still finish, will be able to be used for purposes that it was intended.”
Biden added that he intends to appoint one person to supervise the disbursement of the bipartisan bill’s funds to ensure the spending isn’t wasteful.
“That’s what I want to talk to my cabinet about today: the high obligation and responsibility we all have to make sure this money is used wisely, used well and used for the stated purposes for the American people,” Biden said. “Because if we do it right, we know what it will mean … It will create millions of new jobs. It will grow the economy and will win the world economic competition.”
The infrastructure bill includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for Amtrak, $65 billion for high-speed internet expansion, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $39 billion for public transportation, $25 billion for airports, $17 billion for ports, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $5 billion to buy electric and low-emission buses.
The bill puts $73 billion toward “clean energy transmission… including by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy,” a White House fact sheet said. Another $21 billion would go to environmental remediation, “making the largest investment in addressing the legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities and neighborhoods in American history.”
The slow pace of the 2009 stimulus disbursement became a political issue for the Obama administration. Obama himself admitted nearly two years after the law was enacted that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”
The Solyndra scandal, meanwhile, drew intense oversight from congressional Republicans who retook House committees following the 2010 midterm elections. The company was backed by the foundation of prominent Obama fundraiser George Kaiser and the firm’s reps made many trips to the White House.
The infrastructure bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Centrist Democrats are expressing concern about a spike in inflation as Biden pushes for a nearly $2 trillion social and environmental spending sequel that the White House claims would be paid for through an IRS crackdown and new taxes on businesses and wealthy people.