Vice President-elect Joe Biden will oversee a task force that will make recommendations on how to build the ranks of the middle class, that ambiguously defined segment of society in which most Americans identify themselves.
Biden said the task force will include other Cabinet members and it will present President-elect Barack Obama with a package of proposals designed to ensure the middle class is "no longer being left behind."
"We'll look at everything from college affordability to after-school programs, the things that affect people's daily lives," Biden said during an interview to be broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week".
Overseeing a task force has become tradition for vice presidents. Dick Cheney led a task force on energy. Al Gore had the task of reinventing government. George H.W. Bush, while serving as Ronald Reagan's vice president, oversaw a task force charged with reducing government regulation. While all of those efforts resulted in some accomplishments, it's also clear that the issues they confronted were so large and systemic that many could and did question the progress they made.
Biden said the measure of economic success in an Obama administration would be whether the middle class was growing. He said Obama planned to announce the formation of the task force later Sunday.
Even as he discussed the new job, Biden took care to define his role as vice president as going beyond a particular task. He said that when he discussed the job with Obama during the campaign, he told Obama he didn't "want to be the guy that goes out and has a specific assignment." Rather, he wanted to have a voice in every matter of importance.
"I said I want a commitment from you that in every important decision you'll make, every critical decision, economic and political as well as foreign policy, I'll get to be in the room," Biden said.
He said that Obama agreed and has adhered to that commitment.
"Every single solitary appointment he has made thus far, I have been in the room," said Biden, who was elected seven times to the Senate. "The recommendations I have made in most cases, coincidentally, have been the recommendations that he's picked, not because I made them, but because we think a lot alike."
Biden also covered topics from the auto bailout to his continued desire to close the Guantanamo prison holding terrorist suspects:
— The loan agreement for automakers will require sacrifices from all segments of the industry. While saying organized labor did not bring the carmakers to the brink of collapse, unions in particular are "going to have to make some additional sacrifices, and they know it and they understand it."
—The economic aid plan being readied by the Obama team will focus on creating a strong energy grid, will pay for thousands of new jobs focusing on making buildings and homes more energy efficient and will help health care providers invest in electronic record keeping for patients. "The end result, though, the money we're spending, we're going to get back three- and four fold."
—The military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should close, and the U.S. reputation abroad has suffered as a result of the Bush administration's policies on surveillance and detainees. "To quote from a previous national security report put out by the intelligence community, we have created, not dissuaded, more terrorists as a consequence of this policy," Biden said.
—It's up to the Justice Department to determine if charges should be filed against any member of the Bush administration for prisoner abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. "President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past," he said.
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