LOUISVILLE — Vice President Joe Biden rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt and told dozens of GE Appliances and Lighting employees Monday that the federal government's stimulus package has been good for their company and country.
The Democratic vice president took a shot at critics of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul has used as a favored example of excessive government spending.
Backed by Democrats in Congress, the stimulus package includes tax cuts, expansion of unemployment benefits and other social welfare provisions.
"I love these guys who say government should stay out when we're in deep crisis, like some of the people you're hearing from in this state and other places," Biden said to cheers from GE employees.
GE is making a $600 million investment to expand manufacturing at the nearly 60-year-old Appliance Park in Louisville. It is being supported by $24.8 million in tax credits that were part of the Obama administration's stimulus plan. The investment is expected to create about 830 jobs.
"Some say we cannot afford to make investments," Biden said. "I say we cannot afford not to."
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jack Conway did not attend Biden's speech, but his campaign issued a statement later Monday in support of the stimulus plan.
"Jack is on record saying he would have supported the stimulus because our economy was in trouble and people were hurting," said spokeswoman Allison Haley.
Conway's campaign said he was making visits in Washington with former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Owensboro. Conway's wife, Elizabeth Conway, attended the speech.
Calls to Paul's campaign for comment Monday were not returned. But the Republican National Committee, through spokesman Ryan Tronovitch, said Biden's "sarcastic comments about the government's involvement in the economic recovery are totally disconnected from reality and falsely imply that the Obama administration's big-spending policies are doing anything but pushing massive debt onto the next generation."
Tronovitch said Kentucky has lost thousands of jobs since the passage of the stimulus package and has one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation.
"Regardless of what Vice President Biden considers progress, the fact is, Kentucky's economy is far worse-off than before the failed $862 billion stimulus," he said.
For its part, the Democratic National Committee suggested that Republicans have been disingenuous about the stimulus package. More than 114 lawmakers who voted to kill the Recovery Act — more than half the GOP members in Congress — later took credit for stimulus-funded projects or called them a success, the DNC said.
A May poll conducted for the Herald-Leader found that 62 percent of likely Kentucky voters thought the stimulus program had hurt the economy or had no effect.
However, there was a sharp split among Republican and Democratic voters. Among Republicans, 8 percent said the stimulus spending had helped boost the economy or prevented it from getting worse. Among Democrats, 50 percent said the spending helped the economy or prevented it from sliding further into recession, the poll found.
Many voters have focused far more ire on corporate bailouts and the federal health care reform law this year than on the stimulus program, but it remains an example of excessive government spending, said James H. Weise, GOP chairman of the 2nd Congressional District in Western Kentucky.
"What I hear is that people don't like the whole idea of putting us so far in debt," he said, adding that he has not seen any benefit from the stimulus package.
In May 2009, Kentucky Youth Advocates, a non-profit child advocacy group, estimated the stimulus package would bring roughly $7 billion in direct aid and tax cuts to Kentuckians.
The organization said one of the biggest chunks of that spending was more than $900 million for Medicaid, a program from which Paul receives payments in his practice as an eye surgeon.
Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer said people might see the stimulus in a different light than bailouts because they can see stimulus money at work close to home, which could affect how the issue plays out in the Senate race.
"If they can see themselves what the money's going to, it makes a big difference," said Greer, a Republican. "People can see where it's helping them."
In Barren County, for instance, stimulus money helped finance construction of a new jail and is being used to build a new interchange on the Louie B. Nunn/Cumberland Parkway near Glasgow.
Biden made at least one mistake in his speech when he incorrectly called U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, "Jim."
As he was winding up his 25-minute speech, Biden was interrupted when Jim Campbell, president and CEO of the GE plant in Louisville, fell off his stool and the 3-foot stage.
As several people gasped, Biden asked for a doctor. Paramedics and a doctor attended to Campbell, who walked away on his own in the plant, which was quite warm.
Biden left Louisville to attend a fund-raiser in southern Indiana for U.S. Rep. Barron Hill.