President Joe Biden on Thursday urged “generational” investment in US infrastructure to keep the economic superpower ahead of China while ensuring that less wealthy Americans are not left behind.
Speaking at a community college in Cleveland, Ohio, Biden said his $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan is an opportunity to capitalize on the rapid US recovery from the Covid-19 shutdown.
“We’re at an inflection point,” he said. “We have a chance to seize the economic momentum… and this time we’re going to deal everyone in, everyone who’s been left out.”
Pressuring his Republican opponents in Congress, Biden said the infrastructure bill and another proposal for spending $1.8 trillion on education and social services were “generational investments” akin to state-funded electrification in the 1930s and building of highway networks in the 1950s.
Without that level of government intervention at home, US power abroad will suffer as Chinese and EU infrastructure and research efforts surge ahead, he warned.
“We must be number one in the world to lead the world in the 21st century. It’s a simple proposition and the starting gun has already gone off,” Biden said, citing China’s electric vehicle industry.
But Biden faces a hard slog to get Republican support in Congress, where the Democrats’ majority is too slim to pass most legislation.
The White House has already dropped its infrastructure price tag from $2.3 trillion, but even the $1.7 trillion figure is a long way off the counter-proposal offered Thursday by Republicans at just under a trillion.
Still, the back and forth shows the deal is not dead and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the Republican proposal “encouraging.”
– Working class pitch –
Biden also framed his policies as aimed at less well-off Americans.
In rhetoric occasionally reminiscent of his populist predecessor Donald Trump, Biden called on Congress to put blue collar workers and the middle class ahead of big corporate executives.
“Wall Street did not build this country. The middle class built this country and unions built the middle class,” Biden said. “We have to bring everybody along.”
To fund his spending, Biden has proposed canceling a Trump corporate tax cut and closing loopholes used by the richest one percent in the country to avoid many taxes. Republicans are adamantly opposed.
Biden clearly sees the debate as an opening on the domestic political battlefield, where he has positioned himself as champion of ordinary workers.
While underlining that he is a “capitalist,” Biden said the economy has become skewed to the very rich.
“Along the way, we started seeing the stock market and corporate profits and executive pay as the sole measure of our economic success. Let me tell you something: my sole measure of economic success is how working families are doing, whether they have jobs,” he said.
“I’m not looking to punish anyone… I just think that after decades of workers getting a raw deal, it’s time they be given a fair shake.”
On Friday, the White House will roll out a proposed federal budget that according to US media reports will total some $6 trillion.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testified Thursday that this would send US national debt surging but still within manageable levels.