‘A once in a generation investment’: In Pgh., Biden unveils $2T infrastructure package; creating millions of jobs

President Joe Biden discusses the details of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan during a stop at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Wednesday, 3/31/21 (C-Span screen capture)

Unveiling what he called the boldest domestic spending package since the construction of America’s interstate highway system and the dawning of the space race, President Joe Biden returned to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, releasing the broad details of a $2 trillion infrastructure package that would rebuild highways and bridges, along providing funding programs for housing, broadband and schools and increasing U.S. manufacturing jobs over the next eight years.

“This is a once in a generation investment in America,” Biden said during his appearance at union training center in Pittsburgh. ” … We’ll grow the economy, and it will make us more competitive around the world. It’s big, yes, It’s bold, yes. And we can get it done.” 

The package, part of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, would fund typical infrastructure projects such as rebuilding roads, advancing the country’s transition to electric vehicle charging stations, and combating climate change.

The stop in Pennsylvania was Biden’s second since taking office.

The Delaware Democrat blanketed the Keystone State during his 2020 White House bid, launching and ending his campaign in the Steel City. Biden visited Delaware County, in suburban Philadelphia on March 16, to tout the benefits of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan.

Biden was greeted in Pittsburgh by a number of high-ranking Pennsylvania officials, including Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, as well as U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pittsburgh-area U.S. Reps. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, and Mike Doyle, D-18th District, according to pool reports.

The sweeping program would be paid for through a tax hike on corporations, raising the rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. The Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan think tank that’s part of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, estimates that reform alone is worth $730 billion over 10 years.

Biden told the crowd Wednesday that he wasn’t targeting wealthy Americans, and he pledged that no American who earns under $400,000 would see their taxes increase. Rather, he said, it was about leveling the playing field and making sure that hugely wealthy corporations pay their fair share.

“This is not to target those who made it … this is about opening opportunities for everyone else,” he said. “We will all do better when we all do well. It’s time to rebuild the economy from the middle out, not the top down. Wall Street didn’t build this country, you, the great middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class. And this time, when we rebuild the middle class, we’re going to bring everyone along.”

The plan also aims to bring clean energy manufacturing jobs to communities that rely on the coal industry in an effort to encourage manufacturers to locate in those areas.

“Imagine knowing you’re handing your children and grandchildren a country that leads the world in clean energy production,” he said.

Biden’s plan faces a tough road on Capitol Hill, and may have to be passed through the reconciliation process, bypassing Republicans.

But as Politico reported Tuesday, the plan also may have to overcome skepticism among Democrats who think it doesn’t go far enough. Among them is U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who said the package “is not nearly enough” and “needs to be way bigger.”

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said that while he believes “we can and should do more to rebuild our nation’s physical infrastructure,” Biden’s plan would “[undo] large portions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That 2017 tax reform helped create the best American economy of my lifetime.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Biden ally, told the Capital-Star Thursday that he believes Biden has a path to Republican votes, if Congress gets a “clean” bill that isn’t weighted down with extraneous spending items.

“The public wants to see us work together,” Rendell said. There’s something very salutary for the American people to see a bill pass with Republican and Democratic support.”

And when push comes to shove, progressives will be there to vote for the bill, Rendell added.

“If there is an infrastructure bill of the nature of $2 trillion, every progressive would have to vote for it,” he said. 

For its part, the White House is looking for bipartisan support for the bill.

“Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, often led by Republicans,” Biden said, pointing to President Abraham Lincoln’s role in building the transcontinental railroad and President Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership in the construction of interstate highways.

“So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan,” Biden said. “The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right things for the future.”

The rollout comes at a critical time for Pennsylvania, which has struggled to meet its highway and infrastructure obligations.

In a February report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C-minus for the state of its infrastructure, pointing to the commonwealth’s aging drinking water mainlines, bridges and roadways in poor condition and sewer and wastewater ways in desperate need of repair.

The Democratic Wolf administration has proposed tolling nine bridges across the state, which it says says is necessary to offset lagging proceeds from the state’s gas tax so it can maintain roads and bridges. At the same time, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed ditching the state’s gas tax, and replacing it with other funding sources.

Earlier this month, Wolf, a York County Democrat announced he’d signed an executive order creating a new “Transportation Revenue Options Commission,” a sprawling, bipartisan body made up of state and local officials that would be charged with coming up with a replacement for the revenue the state currently takes in from the tax.

In response to the presidential announcement, a group of more than 360 local elected officials from across the United States, including 111 from Pennsylvania, called on Biden and Congress to approve “robust infrastructure funding to make our communities healthier and protect the environment.”

A coalition of progressive groups in Pittsburgh echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s sentiments, demanding a “real Green New Deal, which addresses all of our human needs and rights, including good union jobs, housing, public transit, healthy food, education, health care, racial justice – and our interdependence with our family of all peoples and nations and ecologies of life, with whom we stand in solidarity for the sake of our mutual survival.”

In Pittsburgh, Biden pledged to deliver a robust and ambitious program: “People will look back in 50 years and say this is the moment where America won the future,” he said.

Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa contributed to this story. 

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press