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Biden unveils sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan

The proposal, which would invest in a number of infrastructure challenges crippling the country, faces stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced his $2 trillion infrastructure plan Wednesday, a sweeping proposal that would rebuild 20,000 miles of roads, expand access to clean water and broadband and invest in care for the elderly.

Speaking at a carpenters training facility in Pittsburgh, Biden urged Congress to act on his proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, arguing that failing to make the investments would contribute to a weakening middle class and leave the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage abroad.

"I am proposing a plan for the nation that rewards work, not just rewards wealth," 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."

The plan would create millions of jobs, Biden said, and jump-start the fight against climate change. The proposal, which would be spent out over eight years, would be paid for over 15 years by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, ending the Trump-era tax cuts.

"We have to move now, because I'm convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say, 'This was the moment that America won the future,'" Biden said.

Included in the proposal are $155 billion to repair roads and bridges, $80 billion to fix Amtrak's repair backlog, $40 billion to improve public housing and $111 billion to replace the country's lead pipes so drinking water is not contaminated. There are $42 billion for ports and airports, $100 billion to improve public school buildings and $180 billion to be invested in research and development.

Biden said the plan would fix the 10 most economically significant bridges in need of reconstruction and repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, as well as 20,000 miles of road. The plan would also establish a network of electric vehicle charging systems.

Biden said that he would take steps to ensure that minority communities that have historically been left out of similar investments would benefit and that he would direct the investments to smaller towns and cities across the country, not just coastal areas.

The American Jobs Plan is expected to be followed by a second package in mid-April, which will focus on expanding the social safety net. White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the second package should not be seen as any less of a priority for the administration.

"There are multiple pillars, and one is not more important than the other," she said.

The sweeping legislative package would be legacy-making for the nascent Biden administration, but it faces a steep climb on Capitol Hill, where the window for major legislation has appeared to be closing. Biden has already signed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

While spending on infrastructure traditionally gets bipartisan support, Biden has encountered Republican pushback over the scope of the plan and its reliance on corporate tax increases to fund it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on a call with Democratic lawmakers Monday that she would like to pass the bill by July 4 but that the timeline could easily slip to later in the month, according to a source familiar with the matter.

It is unclear whether Democrats will consider resorting once again to the budget reconciliation process, which would allow them to circumvent a Republican filibuster and would require only 50 votes to succeed. Senate rules limit what can be included in a reconciliation bill, so some of the more ambitious ideas might have to be discarded.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday morning that he was unlikely to support anything "if it's going to have massive tax increases and trillions more added to the national debt."

McConnell, who said Biden called him Tuesday to discuss the plan, said the bill was a "Trojan horse" packed with progressive wish-list items.

Biden — who said the plan was a "vision not seen through the eyes of Wall Street or Washington, but through the eyes of hard-working people" — said no one should complain about his proposal to increase corporate tax rates, which would still fall short of the 35 percent rate that was in effect before the 2017 tax cuts.

Biden said he was open to other ideas to pay for the bill as long as they did not raise federal taxes on people making under $400,000. He said he planned to invite Republicans to the Oval Office in the coming weeks to discuss the proposal.

"Failing to make these investments adds to our debt and effectively puts our children at a disadvantage relative to our competitors," Biden said. "That's what crumbling infrastructure does."

The White House is preparing for months of back and forth with Congress over the bill, and it sees the plan as a starting point for negotiations. A White House official said the administration expects Congress to make "significant progress" by Memorial Day but not necessarily to pass a bill by then.

The White House has suggested that it is open to Congress' breaking some of the elements off into separate legislation if that could help get the measures passed more quickly. One measure already before the Senate with bipartisan support is a bill to increase U.S. competitiveness with China.

The administration is also likely to have to contend with more division within the Democratic Party.

Some moderate House Democrats said Tuesday that they would not support the bill unless it repealed a cap on the amount of state and local taxes that could be deducted on federal tax returns, which primarily affects residents of high-cost, high-tax areas, like New York and New Jersey. Republicans capped the tax, known as SALT — which essentially amounted to a tax increase — when they passed a tax cut package in 2017.

"We say 'No SALT, no deal,'" Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

The White House and other Democrats say the legislation is a way to advance proposals to mitigate climate change and racial inequality, but in the Senate the measures could cost the support of not only Republicans but also moderate Democrats, a Senate aide said.

And while the Senate is likely to have the votes to pass a bill focused on traditional infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, that alone might be spurned by House Democrats who feel it does not go far enough.

"We must stop spending billions of taxpayer money on infrastructure systems only for them to fail at the most crucial moment," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in a statement Tuesday.

Still, Biden projected optimism Wednesday. "It's big, yes. It's bold, yes. And we can get it done," he said.