Biden says infrastructure bills must pass at ‘inflection point’ for US

President Biden on Tuesday said the United States sat at an “inflection point” in terms of economic competitiveness, arguing passage of his agenda is necessary to ensure adversaries do not surpass the nation.

Biden traveled to Michigan as negotiations with congressional Democrats inch along on passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger package including investments in health care, education and climate-friendly industries. The president argued America had “taken our foot off the gas” on investing in infrastructure and education as he pitched his agenda to an audience of Democratic lawmakers in a critical swing state. 

“These bills are not about left versus right or moderate versus progressive or anything that pits Americans against one another,” Biden said in a speech at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility in Howell, Mich. “These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency. They’re about opportunity versus decay. They’re about leading the world or continuing to let the world pass us by.”

“To support these investments is to create a rising America,” Biden added, before offering a warning shot at opponents of his agenda. “To oppose these investments is to be complicit in America’s decline.”

The president’s remarks came at a key juncture for his agenda. Congress must raise the debt ceiling in the coming days or risk defaulting, and Democrats are haggling over the details of a large reconciliation package in the hopes of passing that bill and an infrastructure bill containing $579 billion in new spending by the end of the month.

Biden tried to cut through what he described as “hyperbole” in Washington about Democratic infighting over his agenda, while highlighting aspects of both bills, including money to make physical infrastructure more resilient, expand access to childcare, provide free prekindergarten and community college, and extend the child tax credit expansion.

Biden also emphasized that the bills would be spread out over 10 years and insisted the larger package would be paid for by hiking taxes on the rich and corporations, seeking to counter Republican attacks against his “tax and spend” agenda.  

“The only thing we’ve been missing is the will from Washington to finally build an economy around you, an economy that gives you and your family a fighting chance to get ahead, gives our country a fighting chance to compete with the rest of the world,” Biden said. “We can’t get here thinking small.”

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a Michigan native, argued in a statement that Biden’s agenda would lead to higher taxes and “financial ruin for small businesses.”

Biden visited the congressional district of Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), one of the Democratic representatives who won their seats in the 2018 midterms to help the party take back control of the House. Former President Trump carried the district narrowly in the 2020 election.

“You don’t want to screw around with her. She’s an intelligence officer as well,” Biden quipped of Slotkin at the start of his remarks, referencing her previous career as a CIA analyst. Biden thanked her “sincerely” for the advice she conveyed privately and said it was important that Democrats ensure their proposals are paid for and that those making under $400,000 annually do not see their taxes increase.

Michigan is likely to be a key battleground in 2022 with multiple swing congressional districts on the ballot and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) up for reelection. Biden won the state in 2020 by more than 100,000 votes, but Trump and his allies have pushed unproven claims of fraud in the months since.

Biden, in perhaps a veiled swipe at those claims, noted he garnered the most votes for a president in U.S. history, prompting applause from the crowd.

Slotkin is among the moderate Democrats facing tough reelection bids next year who have pushed for the House passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate. Moderates were frustrated last week when a vote on the bill was pulled without agreement on a broader reconciliation bill, and Biden told reporters there was no rush as long as both were passed.

Now, Democrats are trying to resolve their differences in order to pass both the infrastructure bill and the larger reconciliation package containing the rest of Biden’s priorities, the success of both of which are likely to be integral to Democratic fortunes in the midterm elections. 

Biden met virtually earlier Tuesday with about a dozen vulnerable House Democrats about the path forward on his agenda following a Monday virtual meeting with House progressives where he sought input on what priorities should make it into a slimmed down reconciliation bill.

Biden communicated to Democrats in both meetings that the top-line figure would need to come down from $3.5 trillion. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key moderate vote in the Senate, on Tuesday signaled he is open to a reconciliation bill with a price tag of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion, which would be a higher figure than the limit he articulated last week. The developments together were a sign that Democrats are beginning to move closer to a compromise.

“You heard him on television today. It sure sounds like he’s moving. I hope that’s the case,” Biden told reporters after the event when asked about whether he believed Manchin would support a package exceeding $2.2 trillion.

Tags Build Back Better Donald Trump Elissa Slotkin Gretchen Whitmer Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Ronna McDaniel

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