Biden to push his big infrastructure plan in GOP stronghold

·4 min read

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will push the case for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan in the reliably Republican state of Louisiana — directly challenging GOP lawmakers who say that low taxes for corporations and the wealthy will fuel economic growth.

Biden is leaning into the stagecraft of the presidency on Thursday by choosing to speak in the city of Lake Charles in front of a 70-year-old bridge that is 20 years past its designed lifespan.

Even as he engages with Republicans in Washington, Biden is trying to sell their voters on the idea that higher corporate taxes can provide $115 billion for roads and bridges and hundreds of billions of dollars more to upgrade the electrical grid, make the water system safer, rebuild homes and jump-start the manufacturing of electric vehicles.

He's proposing to pay for his plan by undoing the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump and raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Biden contends his programs would bolster the middle class and make the country stronger than tax cuts for big companies and CEOs.

Biden hinted at the theme when answering questions from reporters after a Wednesday speech at the White House that also emphasized his separate $1.8 trillion plan for education and children to be funded by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

“What’s going to grow America more?” Biden said. “What’s going to help you and your security more? The super wealthy having to pay 3.9% less tax or having an entire generation of Americans having associate degrees?”

“Guess what," he added. "It grows the economy. Benefits everybody. Hurts nobody.”

Republican lawmakers have doubled down on low taxes as a core pillar of their ideology and partisan identity. Several GOP senators favour spending $568 billion on infrastructure over five years, a small fraction of what the Democratic president has proposed — a sign of how difficult a deal might be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Republicans would rather finance infrastructure through user fees such as tolls and gasoline taxes, though he declined to specify which fees he would back.

“We’re open to doing a roughly $600 billion package, which deals with what all of us agree is infrastructure and to talk about how to pay for that in any way other than reopening the 2017 tax reform bill,” McConnell said this week at the University of Louisville.

McConnell also said that "100%” of his focus was “on stopping this new administration,” echoing similarly obstructionist threats he made during President Barack Obama's term and underscoring the challenge Biden faces in trying to work across the aisle.

Biden brushed off the vow, noting that as vice-president he was “able to get a lot done” with McConnell during the Obama era, but his event in Louisiana showed that, once more, his true audience is Republican voters, not GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The Biden administration is banking that its message on infrastructure could play in Louisiana, which last backed a Democratic presidential candidate in 1996. Louisiana has been barraged by 30 extreme weather events over the past decade that caused $50 billion worth of damage. Biden is seeking $50 billion to make infrastructure better able to withstand storms, winds and flooding.

Hurricanes battered Lake Charles, a city of 78,000 residents, twice last year over the course of six weeks. Biden also plans to tour a water plant in New Orleans.

His infrastructure package received support in a newspaper editorial last week by Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, a Republican, and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, a Democrat.

“The unfortunate truth is that our aging infrastructure and local government budgets cannot withstand the strain of increasingly frequent storms,” they wrote. “As mayors of great American cities in the South, we lie awake at night dreading each forecasted storm.”

But Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip who represents portions of Louisiana, derided Biden's plan as a “budget-busting tax hike spending boondoggle masquerading as an infrastructure bill.”

“Raising taxes that will force middle-class jobs overseas is not infrastructure," Scalise said. “Unionizing health care workers is not infrastructure.”

There is general agreement among Democrats and Republicans in Washington about the need for infrastructure spending, and the White House has been quick to point out that some GOP mayors and governors have supported elements of Biden's plan even if those in Congress do not. But there are significant hurdles for Biden's proposal to garner Republican backing.

Republicans want to define infrastructure more narrowly, concentrating on roads, bridges, airports, transit and broadband rather than renewable energy and access to caregivers. They object to undoing the 2017 tax cuts and imposing higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

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Lemire reported from New York.

Josh Boak And Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press