After Biden, The Economic Debate Takes Shape

Bill Scher

The least wealthy member of the Senate took the stage of the Democratic convention hall Wednesday night to accept the vice-presidential nomination, and sharpened the contrast between the progressive and conservative economic visions. The pressure will now be on Republican Sen. John McCain next week to either defend the conservative vision or acknowledge its failures and respond with new ideas.

In introducing himself to the broader electorate, Sen. Joe Biden of sought to show that he gets what’s going on in America, not with stats, but with a clear sense of what goes on around middle-class kitchen tables. From the prepared remarks:

Almost every night, I take the train home to Wilmington, sometimes very late. As I look out the window at the homes we pass, I can almost hear what they’re talking about at the kitchen table after they put the kids to bed.

Like millions of Americans, they’re asking questions as profound as they are ordinary. Questions they never thought they would have to ask:

  • Should mom move in with us now that dad is gone?
  • Fifty, sixty, seventy dollars to fill up the car?
  • Winter’s coming. How we gonna pay the heating bills?
  • Another year and no raise?
  • Did you hear the company may be cutting our health care?
  • Now, we owe more on the house than it’s worth. How are we going to send the kids to college?
  • How are we gonna be able to retire?

Biden then juxtaposed McCain’s support for corporate tax cuts and opposition to raising the minimum wage:

When John McCain proposes $200 billion in new tax breaks for corporate America, $1 billion alone for just eight of the largest companies, but no relief for 100 million American families, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Even today, as oil companies post the biggest profits in history—a half-trillion dollars in the last five years—he wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. But he voted time and again against incentives for renewable energy: solar, wind, biofuels. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

Millions of jobs have left our shores, yet John continues to support tax breaks for corporations that send them there. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.

He voted 19 times against raising the minimum wage. For people who are struggling just to get to the next day, that’s not change; that’s more of the same.

And then he argued that Obama would invest in jobs and education, while cutting middle-class taxes and making health care affordable for everyone.

Barack Obama will reform our tax code. He’ll cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people who draw a paycheck. That’s the change we need.

Barack Obama will transform our economy by making alternative energy a genuine national priority, creating 5 million new jobs and finally freeing us from the grip of foreign oil. That’s the change we need.

Barack Obama knows that any country that out teaches us today will out-compete us tomorrow. He’ll invest in the next generation of teachers. He’ll make college more affordable. That’s the change we need.

Barack Obama will bring down health care costs by $2,500 for the typical family, and, at long last, deliver affordable, accessible health care for all Americans. That’s the change we need.

The ball is now in McCain’s court.

With many conservatives insisting the economy is good, regardless of how most voters feel, McCain has struggled to come up with an economic case that appeals to both conservatives and swing voters.

He has even told conservative audiences that Americans are better off than seven years ago, then told others the opposite.

Such contradictory statements won’t fly during his convention, where he has to address both conservative delegates in the hall and swing voters outside the hall at the same time.

McCain will need to offer a single view of how the economy is faring that voters find credible.

He will have to decide if he really thinks more tax cuts for corporate executives are what voters think the economy needs, or if he needs to put more on the table to convince voters he will help increase wages, reduce costs and create jobs.

And he will need to deal with the fact that what resonates with most voters in his television audience isn’t what will resonate among conservatives in his convention audience.

We’ll see who he ticks off more.

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