Biden urges action on infrastructure bill alongside NJ’s Murphy
President Biden traveled to New Jersey on Monday to highlight the ways in which his domestic policy agenda would benefit the region as Democrats race to reach a deal on a sweeping social spending and climate package.
Biden pointed to the Portal Bridge project in New Jersey as an example of why the funding in the stalled Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is badly needed.
“Aging infrastructure like this is more than an inconvenience or a nuisance. It’s an impediment, an impediment to America’s global competitiveness. We’re in a worldwide race. Things have changed,” Biden said in remarks at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, N.J.
On Monday, officials broke ground on the Portal Bridge project, which is part of the federally funded Gateway transit project. The new project will allow rail service on the bridge to continue uninterrupted while marine traffic passes below it. Currently, the Portal bridge is a “swing bridge,” meaning the bridge needs to open for boats to pass below, which brings rail service to a halt.
“With my infrastructure bill, we’re going to make sure projects like this are just the beginning,” Biden said, adding that there are 45,000 bridges in disrepair and 173,000 miles of roads in poor condition across the United States.
Biden said the infrastructure bill would create “good union jobs” that can’t be outsourced, help make the country’s infrastructure more resilient to climate change, repair lead pipes and expand access to broadband. The infrastructure bill includes $30 billion for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor alone.
Biden spent the afternoon in New Jersey alongside Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who is staring down an election in eight days. A recent poll suggests that Murphy remains ahead of GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli but that his edge has narrowed.
While billed as an official event and not a campaign stop, Biden’s visit to the Garden State was still a clear effort to boost Murphy ahead of his reelection.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed the Senate in August but has been stalled in the House as Democrats struggle to resolve disagreements over a larger climate and social spending package they intend to pass without Republicans support through budget reconciliation. Progressive lawmakers have refused to vote for the infrastructure bill without an agreement on the larger package.
Faced with pushback from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), White House officials and Democrats have been working to bring the price tag of the reconciliation package down from $3.5 trillion and to resolve other differences on provisions related to climate, health care and taxes.
Biden spoke only briefly about some of the proposals expected to be included in the reconciliation package on Monday. He mentioned, for instance, funding for universal prekindergarten, an extension of the expanded child tax credit and funding to reduce child care costs for low- and middle-income families.
The president didn’t mention some of the provisions that are being scaled back or on the chopping block, like a paid leave program, a plan to incentivize clean electricity and a now-defunct proposal for two years of tuition-free community college.
At one point, Biden also seemed to suggest the price tag could be around $1.75 trillion.
“You hear these numbers, $3.5 trillion and $1.75 trillion — we pay for it all,” Biden said. “It doesn’t increase the deficit one single cent.”
“So, let’s get to work. Let’s put people to work. And let’s once again reestablish America as the most advanced country in the world,” he said.
Biden told reporters earlier Monday that he hopes to see an agreement on the spending package by the time he leaves for an overseas trip later this week, during which he’ll participate in a Group of 20 summit and a United Nations summit on climate change.
In addition to his speech, the president and Murphy visited a pre-K classroom at East End Elementary School in North Plainfield, N.J., to make the case for universal free preschool for three- and four-year-olds, a provision of his economic agenda.
“The earlier our children begin to learn, the better for themselves, their families and for the nation,” he said, noting studies that show children who attend preschool are 50 percent more likely to finish high school.