Vice President Joe Biden addressed thousands of city leaders from across the country as part of the National League of Cities’ annual meeting at Nashville’s Music City Center Thursday afternoon.
Biden, who spoke for about 45 minutes, reflected on his early start in local government as a county councilman in Delaware and acknowledged the duties of local officials, who he said often go unrecognized for their work.
“I appreciate all of you,” Biden said. “The issues you deal with every single day affect the quality of life of the American people almost more than anything the federal government can do.”
Biden went on to discuss the Recovery Act signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17, 2009. He added that the Act and other unpopular economic decisions were successfully implemented with the help of governors and local officials, some who he said were in attendance at the event.
“Because of you and the grit of the American people, we have gone from crisis to recovery to the cusp of resurgence,” he said.
To do this, Biden said, there needs to be an influx of middle class jobs people can live off of.
“It’s not a number … middle class is a value system,” Biden said. “It’s about being able to own your own home and not just rent. It’s about being in a position where you can send your kid to the local park and know that they’ll make it home safely. It’s about being able to send them (your kids) to a local public school where, if they do well, they can get into college, and you can figure out a way to pay to have them there.”
In addition to creating middle class jobs, Biden presented two things we must do in order to make America’s recovery a “resurgence.”
Biden said the first strategy is free community college, which he said could be funded by cutting tax deductions. Biden, who described community colleges as the single best kept secret in America, quoted his wife’s expression, “Any country that out-educates us, will out compete us.”
The vice president said he’s determined to not let that happen, and he believes there should be 16 years of free education for all Americans, provided the student maintains good grades, which would include free tuition at four-year universities, as well.
Earlier this year, President Obama and his administration unveiled “America’s College Promise,” a nationwide plan to provide free community college. Both President Obama and Biden spoke about the plan, which is modeled after Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” at Knoxville’s Pellissippi State Community College earlier this year.
The second strategy, Biden said, is to modernize the country’s infrastructure in cities, noting that the United States is ranked 28th in transportation around the world. An improved infrastructure ultimately leads to job growth, better education and a well-trained workforce, he added.
“No city or town can grow where residents can’t find work,” Biden said. “People can’t move up the ladder to the middle class unless they have access to reliable transportation to get to job interviews, to show up to work on time, to get home to their families for dinner.”
He also called upon officials attending the conference to move forward on initiatives to address climate change.
“Climate change is not just an an environmental issue,” Biden said. “It’s a moral issue.”
To close his speech, Biden shared his perspective on America’s future.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing from Democrats and Republicans what awful trouble we’re in,” he said. “I’ve been doing this my entire adult life. I’ve never been more optimistic about the possibilities of this nation than I am today.”
Biden, who recently made it clear he will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination, made no mention of the 2016 election during Thursday’s speech.
The vice president last visited Tennessee in August, when he spoke at a memorial service in the honor of four Marines who were killed at a Chattanooga reserve base.
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