Biden putting final touches on potential $3 trillion economic, infrastructure package as Buttigieg heads to the Hill

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will meet with his top economic advisors over the coming days to finalize a sweeping domestic-spending and infrastructure package that he intends to formally unveil next week, according to the White House.

The build-up to Biden’s “Build Back Better” package comes as his transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, is set Thursday to pitch “a generational investment in infrastructure” as he addresses the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Biden is expected to unveil the initial pieces of his economic agenda next week in Pittsburgh, Pa., where White House press secretary Jen Psaki said he will deliver a speech “laying out more details of his plan to build the economy back better.”

But much like the COVID-19 relief package, Republicans have signaled they have no interest in allowing another multi-trillion dollar proposal to sail through Congress.

The president is still finalizing “the scale, scope and final policy components” of next week’s proposal, Psaki said Wednesday.

President Joe Biden on March 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda – a slogan Biden coined on the campaign trail  – includes several components, according to Psaki: Upgrades to aging infrastructure such roads, bridges, rail and cyber equipment; a tax code overhaul that benefits workers; a boost for caregivers; increased access to health care; and clean energy investments.

“All of which will not be in a speech next week,” she noted. “Right now he’s having a conversation about the scale and the scope of what proposals look like. There’s lots of ways to frame it, to shape it, to size it.”

The White House has not released a dollar figure for the legislative package. But the Associated Press and New York Times reported a combined $3 trillion is under consideration to boost the economy and improve quality of life.

But that level of spending could be greeted with a cold shoulder from Republicans in Congress, just weeks after every Republican in the House and Senate voted against Biden’s less expensive COVID-19 relief package.

“We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called ‘infrastructure’ proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies,” Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said from the Senate floor Monday.

Yet addressing America’s infrastructure is also an area Republicans say they support. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly promised an infrastructure package but never delivered one.

Although a plan isn’t finalized, an infrastructure package could make up roughly $1 trillion of the larger package, according to the Associated Press, and include a goal of shifting to cleaner energy while improving economic competitiveness. A second component would include free community college, universal pre-kindergarten and paid family leave – each under a larger umbrella of helping American workers.

Buttigieg: ‘We can turn aspirations into action’

To pay for additional spending, Biden campaigned on higher corporate taxes and tax increases for families who earn more than $400,000 annually.

Psaki on Wednesday said 98% of families wouldn’t pay higher taxes under such a system. She declined to answer other hypotheticals for taxpayers “until we actually lay out a tax proposal, which we have not done yet.”

Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as transportation secretary, making him the first openly gay person confirmed to a Cabinet post by the Senate. (Photo: USA TODAY)

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a onetime rival of Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary, will play a central role in pitching the transportation infrastructure piece of the “Build Back Better” agenda.

“I believe we have – at this moment – the best chance in any of our lifetimes to make a 

generational investment in infrastructure,” Buttigieg plans to say in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing, according to prepared remarks.

He will say infrastructure has “strong bipartisanship support” – noting that “every citizen, regardless of political affiliation, shares the need for reliable roads, railways and air transportation.” He will also point to “a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline.”

“I know that expectations have been raised before when it comes to major moves in American infrastructure,” Buttigieg intends to say. “But now, in this season, we can turn aspirations into action.”

In an interview on Wall Street Journal’s podcast, Buttigieg said the administration’s plan won’t be “a replay of a 1950s vision of what infrastructure means” – meaning a focus on other modes of transportation in addition to vehicles.

“Yes, that’s driving,” he said. “It’s also rail, it’s bike and pedestrian mobility where that’s appropriate. And by the way, water is a surface, too. And one thing we’re seeing, especially with the backups in the West, is that our ports are in need of some attention and some investment.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is pushing a $500 billion surface transportation bill that includes spending on transit, rail and fueling stations in addition to infrastructure maintenance backlog and fixes to roads and bridges. He wants it to serve as a major component of a broader infrastructure package.

The proposal was tucked into a larger infrastructure bill, dubbed the Moving Forward Act, that passed the Democratic-controlled House last year but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now Democrats control both chambers.

In his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing, DeFazio will point to an “investment gap” of  $2.6 trillion for infrastructure needs over the next 10 years, according to a transcript of his remarks. The figure comes from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has projected needs approaching $6 trillion, but committed revenue to pay for less than half that.

“We know the question is not whether we need to invest,” DeFazio plans to say, “but what consequences we’ll suffer for every day of delay as the risk of failure of our aging and fragile assets increases.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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