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Biden in Michigan: U.S. is 'falling behind' without new infrastructure, human investments

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HOWELL – Without passing federal infrastructure and “Build Back Better” legislation, President Joe Biden believes the U.S. is poised to fall further behind in the global race to be economically competitive, culturally competent and climate conscious. 

© Kayla Daugherty President Joe Biden speaks at Operating Engineers Local 324 in Howell Township on Tuesday Oct. 5, 2021.

The president pitched his multi-trillion-dollar plans to address infrastructure, safety net programs and the climate after touring the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility in Howell on Tuesday.

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“This is a blue-collar blueprint for how we restore America’s pride,” Biden said. 

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“Other countries are speeding up and we’re falling behind. We have to speed up the pace.” 

Joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and most of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation, Biden spoke for about 30 minutes as hundreds of angry activists chanted and waved flags down the road from the facility. 

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Holly Democrat who represents Livingston County, said she was embarrassed to see some of the profane signs outside of the rally. She said the president noted the signs, and pointed out they were within clear site of a nearby school. 

“He said, ‘I guess I’m still surprised when people — even if they don’t like me — are willing to be that profane around children,’ ” Slotkin said. 

Biden said the U.S. needs to massively invest in itself, as it did after World War II. The country put aside partisan differences and worked to help the U.S. return to normalcy.

The president acknowledged obvious problems persisted, specifically addressing racism in Howell.

“Racial discrimination was a fact of life. We know how deep-rooted racism is in this country. We saw the Klan marching here in Howell … and again in recent years. It’s a never-ending battle,” Biden said.

“The challenge of the day is one of economic competition. Let’s learn from that history. Not because it was perfect — because Americans then did what we need to do now: Invest in ourselves to show the world that American democracy works,” Biden said. 

More: President Biden to pitch infrastructure bill, ‘Build Back Better’ plan during Howell trip

More: Michigan Republicans blast Biden’s sweeping social agenda ahead of Howell visit

During his speech, Biden ticked off the tens of billions of dollars that he says would flow to bolster the Michigan and U.S. economies through highway and water infrastructure upgrades, along with expanded access to child care and higher education. 

Both bills are paid for entirely through tax increases on the ultra wealthy: No one making under $400,000 would see a tax increase, though that claim has been disputed by critics, especially since the framework of the social spending bill hasn’t been finalized.

“I’m a capitalist,” Biden said. “I think you should be able to make a million dollars or a billion. Just pay your fair share. …

“It’s about changing the paradigm so the economy works for you, not just for those at the very top.” 

From the infrastructure plan, the Biden administration predicts Michigan would receive an estimated: 

  • $7.3 billion for highway upgrades and an additional $563 million for bridges 
  • $1.3 billion to upgrade water infrastructure
  • $1 billion to “improve public transportation options”
  • At least $100 million to expand broadband access to the nearly 400,000 Michiganders who do not have high-speed internet 
  • $110 million over five years to bolster the electric vehicle charging network across the state 

There are no specific funding projections from Biden’s broader plan to expand safety networks, as the final dollar amount is a key sticking point at the moment. But the president said his plan provides: 

  • A 50% or more reduction in child care costs for “most low- and middle-income” families
  • Universal pre-K for every child 3 and 4 years old 
  • A 44% reduction in the number of Michigan children living in poverty. This is based entirely on savings from proposed expansions to federal child tax credits 
  • At least two years of community college education at no cost to students 
  • Support for the construction and rehabilitation of more than 2 million homes 
  • Almost 250,000 more students with access to free school meals, and funding for 832,000 students to eat over the summer

Before speaking, Biden shook hands and learned about operating a front-end loader during a tour of the training facility. He discussed the need for young people to enter the skilled trades and joked about learning to fly a drone. 

The speech came at a crucial moment in the Biden presidency: As his approval rating drops in Michigan and across the nation, he needs a signature policy win. But he can’t get the two flanks of his own party to come together to defeat Republicans and pass bills that contain many generally popular proposals. 

Michigan’s congressional Democratic delegation embodies this dispute. U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee and other moderates are on board with both proposals. But U.S. Reps. Rashida Talib and Andy Levin have promised to scuttle the bipartisan infrastructure bill if the House does not first vote on a broad version of Biden’s social spending plan. That plan, however, still faces considerable hurdles with more moderate Democrats in both the House and Senate, though there have been some recent indications that both sides could find common ground.

Slotkin has been noncommittal about the broader spending plan. After the event, she reiterated her support for the infrastructure bill. She also said she’s in favor of transformative spending to address issues such as child care, but would not support Biden’s broader bill if it tries to cater to too many special interests. 

“Right now, if you’re a cop married to a teacher, you’re spending like $12,000 per kid in this county on child care. That’s one kid. You’re talking about saving thousands and thousands of dollars for people who cannot save the way their parents saved,” Slotkin said. 

“But this kind of every pet rock gets a little bit, and then we don’t explain clearly how we’re going to pay for it, that doesn’t work for me. And it certainly doesn’t work for the independently minded district that I represent.” 

Dingell told the Free Press before the event she met with Biden on Monday and is confident congress will come together on a deal. 

“He’s really working this very hard to try and find that common ground. (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) has said by the end of the month — we don’t set up false deadlines, but we all continue to move to try and get it done.” 

More than 500 protesters camped out on the corner of Michigan Avenue and M-59 in Howell, the heart of historically conservative Livingston County. More than 60% of county residents voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and more recently the county commission had at least two videos of its meetings temporarily removed from YouTube for violating the site’s COVID-19 misinformation policies

The protesters chanted profane jeers. A green front-end loader drove down the road with a sign that said “No Biden,” to the delight of those assembled. 

Lynn Mills, a Livonia mom and activist in her 60s wearing large earrings depicting the Virgin Mary, said she came to Howell largely to protest Biden’s stance on abortion. But she also broadly opposes Biden’s plan to make higher education and child care less expensive. 

“Government, stay out of our business. Leave us alone,” Mill said. “I’m not gonna pay for your day care and I’m not going to pay for your college.” 

Rob Weaver, a 71-year-old retired lineman who lives in Hartland, said he hopes Biden realizes there are many Michiganders who do not support him. 

“The path America’s going down right now is suicidal. … It’s like people have lost their sanity,” Weaver said, standing along M-59 as cars and trucks blasted their horns. 

Dingell said she likes that Biden came to Livingston County, calling it an indication that the president wants to speak to all Americans. 

“He doesn’t just select an audience because he thinks they’ll be friendly. He wants to come and talk to people about what he’s trying to accomplish, what his vision is and what he’s going to deliver,” Dingell said. 

Republican members of Michigan’s congressional delegation blasted the president’s broad spending plans. 

“It’s universal everything,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, during a news media call. “Calling this cradle-to-grave mentality … socialism … I think is accurate.”

In a broad statement, the Michigan Republican Party blamed Biden and Whitmer for a higher cost of living in the state. 

“From paying higher prices at the pump to paying more for groceries, middle class Michiganders are feeling the burn under Joe Biden and his out of touch crony Gretchen Whitmer,” MIGOP Communications Director Gustavo Portela said in a statement.

“This will change when we elect a new Republican governor who will stand up for our middle class and help make our state a more affordable place to live for everyone.”

Michigan monthly gas prices are up about 60 cents per gallon from the end of the Trump administration. During the entire Trump presidency, though, monthly Michigan gas prices averaged about $1.68 per gallon, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Association. Since the start of the Biden presidency, monthly Michigan gas prices have averaged about $1.47 per gallon. 

Grocery prices went up nationwide by about 3% from August 2020 to this August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Biden in Michigan: U.S. is ‘falling behind’ without new infrastructure, human investments

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