WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden tried on Tuesday to calm Democrats nervous about a voter backlash over the U.S. economy, predicting job growth soon and insisting "the reports of our demise are premature."
Speaking to Democratic National Committee members, Biden addressed concerns that the Democrats face potential peril in November's congressional elections as they seek to hang on to strong majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
"Our candidates, they are going to have a story to tell. They are going to be able to tell people exactly what they did and why it worked," Biden said.
He spoke as President Barack Obama prepared to use his State of the Union speech on Wednesday to stress his intention to create jobs and generate programs to help middle-class Americans.
With the country mired in a 10 percent jobless rate, Biden said no one should expect 6 percent unemployment by the end of 2010, but predicted positive job growth by spring.
"We can't get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent after this great ... recession, in two years, but you're going to see, come the spring, net increases in jobs," he said.
Biden has been charged with overseeing and promoting the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that Democrats pushed through Congress a year ago over Republican opposition.
It has been the subject of a lengthy fight over whether the package has created enough jobs to make it worth the cost.
The Obama administration has given no definitive figure on how many jobs the stimulus has saved or created. Obama told ABC News on Monday that several million jobs had been saved or created by the stimulus.
On Sunday, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said it had saved "thousands and thousands of jobs," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said it had "saved or created 1.5 million jobs," and top adviser David Axelrod put the figure at more than 2 million.
Biden said the Democrats' loss of the late Senator Edward Kennedy's seat last weekend in Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown should be kept in perspective.
The loss deprived Democrats of their 60-vote supermajority that enabled them to overcome Republican procedural blocking maneuvers. Still, they control 59 seats to 41 for Republicans.
"The reports of our demise are premature. It's time everybody take a deep breath, take a deep breath, let's put this in perspective. Yeah, we took a hit and the frustration was aggravated by the fact that Teddy's seat was lost," Biden said.
In a sign of the sour political environment facing some Democrats, Biden's son, Beau, surprised the party this week by announcing he will not seek the Senate seat in Delaware that his father had held for 36 years, increasing the chances that a Republican will win the seat in November.
Joe Biden said the message from the Massachusetts election is that people want the government to understand their problems.
"Look, we understand that people are frustrated," Biden said. "If the Lord Almighty were president why wouldn't they be frustrated? There's over 10 million people unemployed."
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