HOWELL, MI – President Joe Biden said the United States risks losing its competitive edge over other nations if Congress fails to make big investments in infrastructure and social programs.
Biden visited Michigan to make the case for two pillars of his domestic agenda — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a larger package to expand social programs paid for by taxes on wealthier Americans. The bills hit a snag in Washington, D.C., so the president is hitting the road to promote the impact of massive investments in roads and bridges, free community college, health care, broadband internet and climate change resiliency.
“These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency,” Biden said in Howell on Tuesday. “Opportunity versus decay. It’s about leading the world or letting the world pass us by.”
Biden’s first stop on a cross-country tour brought him to a union training center in Howell. The president spoke to an outdoor crowd of under 50 attendees, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Democratic House members and local officials, while standing in front of construction equipment behind the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training center.
Biden’s infrastructure bill has bipartisan support, but the president is working with Congress to negotiate the $3.5 trillion price tag of the second measure, which has faced opposition from both parties.
The president argues the majority of Americans will support his plan if they’re given a better understanding of what it entails. He pledged to “work like hell” to get both bills passed, scheduling trips across the country to promote his “Build Back Better” agenda.
Speaking for just under 40 minutes, Biden posed his proposals as a once-in-a-generation investment to get the country back on track. The president placed the bills in the context of America’s history as an economic superpower, saying infrastructure investment was the backbone of American prosperity, but “we slowed up and stopped investing in ourselves.”
“We haven’t passed a major infrastructure bill in decades,” Biden said. “It used to be a normal thing to do. It used to be a bipartisan thing to do.”
The president seeks to use taxes on big business and the wealthy to fund investments in child care, health care, education and climate change. Biden said it’s time for corporations to pay their share in taxes.
“It isn’t fair,” Biden said. “It needs to change. Working folks understand that.”
Howell is a city of 10,000 people within a deeply conservative-voting area of the state. Hundreds of people lined M-59 outside the training center to protest Biden’s spending proposals. The rally was organized by the Michigan Republican Party and Moms for Liberty. Dozens of signs reading “F*** Biden, Trump is my president” were visible along the path of Biden’s motorcade.
“President Biden is choosing to take it head-on,” said David Dulio, director of Oakland University’s Center for Civic Engagement. “He’s sort of going into the belly of the beast.”
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 hosted Biden’s visit and also sponsored the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference last month.
Livingston County is represented by U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, a moderate Democrat. She greeted the president on the tarmac when he arrived in Lansing on Tuesday and accompanied him during the visit. Slotkin said she was “embarassed” by the profane language displayed on signs carried by protesters in her district.
The congresswoman said she and Biden discussed the need to ensure his investments won’t pass on debt to the next generation. The president says his proposals will not cost anything for taxpayers making less than $400,000. It’s a key message Biden is trying to communicate to the public, given the big price tag on his bills.
“I’m willing to spend money on transformative families,” Slotkin said. “This kind of every pet rock gets a little bit, and then we don’t explain it clearly doesn’t work for me and it certainly doesn’t work for the indepedently-minded district I represent.”
Slotkin’s district is home to voters who voted for her and former President Donald Trump. The former president earned a narrow majority of votes in the 8th District in 2016 and 2020, but the district lines are likely to change through Michigan’s ongoing redistricting process.
Slotkin said crumbling roads aren’t an issue that only affects voters on one side of the political aisle.
“I have traveled around my district to every corner of it, and lots of people have lots of priorities, but the infrastructure issues that Michiganders are facing unite us,” Slotkin said.
Slotkin has expressed support for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill but hasn’t committed to the $3.5 trillion package amid ongoing negotiations. She’s advocated for voting on the two issues separately.
For now, the two bills have a shared fate. Progressive Democrats have threatened to tank the infrastructure bill if the social spending bill does not pass. Moderates in his party are seeking a scaled-back version of the proposal while progressives push for the full $3.5 trillion.
The infrastructure bill was slimmed from Biden’s original proposal. The president said the contents are a result of bipartisan negotiations. U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids; Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, and Slotkin are members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that negotiated the infrastructure bill.
The Republican National Committee organized a press call including U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; and Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township. All of them said they would vote “no” against the infrastructure bill.
Huizenga said Michigan needs investments to fix roads and expand rural broadband internet, but the $1.2 trillion price tag is twice the size of what’s needed. Huizenga says the government is “throwing trillions of dollars around like it’s Wednesday night poker.”
“I am not sure that they can articulate the problem the true economic problem that they are trying to take care of here by spending another $3.5 trillion,” he said.
Walberg called Biden’s proposals a “bait and switch” that will saddle the country with debt. Reducing the price tag isn’t likely to shift his vote if free college programs and other social safety net expansions are included. He’s concerned those programs will be difficult to tear them down or prevent them from getting bigger over time.
Bergman said high-speed internet is an essential service. He compared expanding rural broadband to the government’s efforts to connect homes to electricity in the 1930s.
Bergman said he supports efforts to bring broadband internet to rural districts like his but doesn’t think the infrastructure bill goes far enough to guarantee it.
What’s in the bills?
The $1 trillion infrastructure bill would send $7.3 billion to Michigan for highway repairs and $563 million for bridge repairs during the next five years.
The state has 1,219 bridges and over 7,300 miles of highway in poor condition. Michigan would also receive $1 billion to improve public transportation and $110 million to expand electric vehicle charging stations, according to the White House.
Other provisions in Biden’s infrastructure plan fund an expansion of broadband internet coverage. Michigan is set to receive $100 million to provide access to 398,000 people who lack access to high-speed internet. Water infrastructure improvements would get a $1.3 billion investment.
The infrastructure bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit in the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending bill reads like a wishlist of his first-term domestic policy priorities. It seeks to provide two years of free community college for all Americans, create universal child care and pre-Kindergarten programs, create 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and expand Medicare.
The plan seeks to extend an expansion of tax credits for people with children. The child tax credit, which applies to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples making up to $150,000, would give families $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for each child between the ages of 6 and 18.
Biden plans to pay for the investments by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26% and raising the income tax rate for Americans making over $400,000 from 37% to 39.6%. The top capital gains tax rate would also increase from 20% to 25%.
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