PITTSBURGH — President Joe Biden outlined a huge $2.3 trillion plan Wednesday to reengineer the nation’s infrastructure in what he billed as “a once in a generation investment in America” that would undo his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement of giant tax cuts for corporations in the process.
Speaking at a carpenters union training center in Pittsburgh, Biden drew comparisons between his hard-hatted proposed transformation of the U.S. economy and the space race — and promised results as grand in scale as the New Deal or Great Society programs that shaped the 20th century.
“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs.”
White House officials say the spending would generate those jobs as the country shifts away from fossil fuels and combats the perils of climate change. It is also an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world’s second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.
“I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say this is the moment when America won the future,” Biden said.
The Democratic president’s infrastructure projects would be financed by higher corporate taxes — a tradeoff that could lead to fierce resistance from the business community and thwart attempts to work with Republican lawmakers. Biden hopes to pass an infrastructure plan by summer, which could mean relying solely on the slim Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.
The higher corporate taxes would aim to raise the necessary piles of money over 15 years and then reduce the deficit going forward. In doing so, Biden would undo the action by Trump and congressional Republicans to lift the corporate tax rate to 28% from the 21% rate set in a 2017 overhaul.
“Ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies, including Amazon, pay not a single solitary penny in income tax,” Biden said.
Wednesday’s announcement will be followed in coming weeks by Biden pushing a companion bill of roughly equal size for investments in child care, family tax credits and other domestic programs. That nearly $trillion package would be paid for by tax hikes on wealthy individuals and families.
“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” Biden said. “You, the great middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class.”
Biden’s choice of Pittsburgh for unveiling the plan carried important economic and political resonance. He not only won Pittsburgh and its surrounding county to help secure the presidency, but he launched his campaign there in 2019. The city famed for steel mills that powered America’s industrial rise has steadily pivoted toward technology and health care, drawing in college graduates in a sign of how economies can change.
Biggest chunk is for transforming transportation
The White House says the largest chunk of the proposal includes $621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit,charging stations and other transportation infrastructure. The spending would push the country away from internal combustion engines that the auto industry views as an increasingly antiquated technology.
An additional $111 billion would go to replace lead water pipes and upgrade sewers. Broadband internet would blanket the country for $100 billion. Separately, $100 billion would upgrade the power grid to deliver clean electricity. Homes would get retrofitted, schools modernized, workers trained and hospitals renovated under the plan, which also seeks to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.
The new construction could keep the economy running hot, coming on the heels of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Economists already estimate it could push growth above 6% this year.
To keep companies from shifting profits overseas to avoid taxation, a 21% global minimum tax would be imposed. The tax code would also be updated so that companies could not merge with a foreign business and avoid taxes by moving their headquarters to a tax haven. And among other provisions, it would increase IRS audits of corporations.
Biden appealed for Republicans and the business community to join him in negotiations on the bill, but the legislative prospects for Biden’s twin proposals already appear to hinge on Democrats coming up with the votes on their own through the budget reconciliation process, which requires just a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate.
“I’m going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office, listen to them, what they have to say and be open to other ideas,” Biden said. “We’ll have a good faith negotiation. Any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”
Democratic leaders embraced Biden’s plan on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it would create millions of jobs.
“I look forward to working with President Biden to pass a big, bold plan that will drive America forward for decades to come,” Schumer said at an event in Buffalo.
GOP and business response
But key GOP and business leaders were already panning the package.
“It seems like President Biden has an insatiable appetite to spend more money and raise people’s taxes,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip, said in an interview.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Biden’s package as nothing more than a “Trojan horse” for tax hikes.
The business community favors updating U.S. infrastructure but dislikes higher tax rates. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley, said in a statement that “we applaud the Biden administration for making infrastructure a top priority. However, we believe the proposal is dangerously misguided when it comes to how to pay for infrastructure.” The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs, would rather have infrastructure funded with user fees such as tolls.
Trump, in a statement, blasted his successor’s proposal, claiming it “would be among the largest self-inflicted economic wounds in history.”
Infrastructure spending usually holds the promise of juicing economic growth, but by how much remains a subject of political debate. Commutes and shipping times could be shortened, while public health would be improved and construction jobs would bolster consumer spending.
‘Pays for itself over time’
Standard & Poor’s chief U.S. economist, Beth Ann Bovino, estimated last year that a $2.1 trillion boost in infrastructure spending could add as much as $5.7 trillion in income to the entire economy over a decade. Those kinds of analyses have led liberal Democrats in Congress such as Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal to conclude Tuesday, “The economic consensus is that infrastructure pays for itself over time.”
But the Biden administration is taking a more cautious approach than some Democrats might like. After $1.9 trillion in pandemic aid and $4 trillion in relief last year, the administration is trying to avoid raising the national debt to levels that would trigger higher interest rates and make it harder to repay.
Biden’s efforts may also be complicated by demands from a handful of Democratic lawmakers who say they cannot support the bill unless it addresses the $10,000 cap on individuals’ state and local tax deductions put in place under Trump and a Republican-led Congress.
With a narrow majority in the House, they could conceivably quash any bill that doesn’t significantly lift the cap or repeal it entirely.
“I can only vote for a bill that has meaningful tax impact for my constituents if it addresses the SALT cap,” tweeted Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J.
“We say No SALT, no deal,” said Democratic Reps. Tom Suozzi of New York and Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey in a joint statement.