It was by far the largest enterprise Joe Biden had ever led: a nearly $800 billion government-spending program intended to rescue the country from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. It involved more than 100,000 projects—275 programs within 28 federal agencies. “If we do everything right, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong,” Biden himself said at the time.
But in overseeing the 2009 Recovery Act as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden shepherded an effort now seen as an effective and remarkably fraud-free response to the financial crisis, even if it won little praise or political credit at the time. If Biden has the good—or bad—luck to win the presidency in November, his first task will be to perform an encore on an even more daunting scale.
It wasn’t a glamorous job, involving as it did minding hundreds of minor details and scores of bureaucracies, and some public officials doubtless would have found it boring. But it was the kind of close work that’s required for good management in any crisis, and Biden seemed to take to it with an enthusiasm that those who were there in the trenches with him recall with pride.
“He would be the most battle-tested president to come into office that we’ve ever had in this regard,” said Biden’s longtime economic adviser Jared Bernstein, a progressive expert on income inequality who would doubtless have a role in a Biden administration. “FDR did amazing work on the Great Depression, but he was throwing noodles at the wall. Biden would bring a unique experience to the office, having been the implementer in chief last time.”