Saturday, June 12, 2021

international

Biden frames infrastructure debate as choice between needed investments and tax breaks for wealthy


NEW ORLEANS - Backdropped by a dilapidated bridge that has outlived its expected working life by two decades, President Joe Biden sought to define the debate on his $2 trillion infrastructure plan as a question of priorities: overdue investments that would benefit a wide swath of Americans versus tax cuts that would help a wealthy few.

"In my view, it's an easy choice, between giving tax breaks to corporations and the super wealthy and investing in working families," Biden said in front of the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles, La.

Biden said the 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans "created a $2 trillion dollar deficit with the vast majority of that going to the top one tenth of one percent of the wage earners. I don't want to punish anybody . . . Just pay your fair share," he said.

"Trickle down ain't working very well," he added later. "We've got to build from the bottom up."

Biden delivered a nearly 40-minute speech in a red state he lost by 20 points in November. Most of that speech was aimed at attacking the arguments against the $2 trillion plan, which would undo tax cuts for corporations that were a signature achievement of the Trump administration and use the money to pay for road and bridge repairs, upgrades to electrical grids and water systems and help speed Americans to a future where most cars on the road are electric.

Republicans have argued that Biden's plan is a costly Trojan horse that would relabel a grab bag of liberal social policies as "infrastructure." They maintain that low taxes for corporations and the wealthy would accelerate economic growth as the nation climbs out of pandemic-related economic stagnation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his top priority is to stop Biden's ambitious agenda.

"One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration," McConnell said during an appearance in Georgetown, Ky. "I think the best way to look at what this new administration is: The president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument."

In surveys, many Americans support the infrastructure proposal, but prominent business organizations, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose it.

Biden stressed that pieces of infrastructure like the Calcasieu River Bridge, a weak link in Interstate 10, are "a perfect example of how we've neglected to invest in our economy. It shouldn't take so long to fix a bridge that is so important."

Workers started building the Calcasieu River Bridge Bridge three years after the end of World War II. Finished in 1952, it was designed to funnel 37,000 vehicles a day over a five-decade life span. Now, 20 years past that expiration date, it funnels 80,000 cars a day. The speed limit has been dropped to 50 because of safety concerns, and trucks can only travel in the right lane. But the bridge remains a decaying chokepoint in the nation's southernmost cross-country highway.

Later Thursday, Biden was scheduled to tour the Carrollton Water Plant in New Orleans, a city whose water system has pipes that are in some cases more than a century old. "We are hoping to get funding, and the fact is the system is aged," New Orleans City Council member Jay Banks told a local television station earlier this week. "It is no longer even repairable. If something breaks, you have to make the part."

Biden has said that his infrastructure plan would create millions of jobs, and that it would help the nation adopt climate friendly policies and address inequity, which his administration has said is an all-of-government concern.

Nearly 60% of the residents of New Orleans are Black, and the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina remain a searing symbol of the intersection between inadequate infrastructure and racial inequity. The storm's eye passed to the east of New Orleans, but the levees in the city and surrounding areas failed in more than 50 places, flooding 80% of the city.

In Thursday's speech, Biden said the infrastructure would help Louisianans recover from the effects of extreme weather - and make cities like Lake Charles more resilient to future storms.

In the past decade, Louisiana has experienced 30 extreme weather events, according to the White House, costing the state up to $50 billion in damages. Lake Charles was shredded by Hurricane Laura in August, then hit again by Tropical Storm Delta a few months later. Local leaders worried that the region had been overlooked in its time of need during a year in which every part of the country was contending with the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'd be willing to break bread with anyone who's willing to help," said Nic Hunter, the Lake Charles Mayor, a Republican who introduced Biden. "Everyday that goes by without disaster relief is a day that Washington fails the people of southwest Louisiana."

Hunter was Exhibit A for Biden's argument that addressing the nation's infrastructure has bipartisan support across the nation - if not in the halls of Congress. Louisiana's Democratic Governor, John Bel Edwards, also spoke before Biden.

"I've never seen a Republican or Democrat road. I just see roads," Biden said.

Biden stressed that he did not want to be the author of another infrastructure plan that is killed by partisanship.

"What I'm not ready to do is to do nothing," he said. "I'm not ready to have another period where America has another infrastructure month and doesn't do a damn thing."

Published : May 07, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Cleve R. Wootson Jr.