Biden Signals Openness to Compromise on Infrastructure Plan

The president again urged lawmakers on both sides to find common ground, this time on funding for America’s roads, bridges and airports.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the American Jobs Plan in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus Wednesday. Vice President Kamala Harris is at left. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday he is open to adjusting portions of his American Jobs Plan, so long as lawmakers agree to invest some amount of money in U.S. infrastructure.

“In the next few weeks, the vice president and I will be meeting with Republicans and Democrats to hear from everyone and we’ll be listening, we’ll be open to good ideas and good-faith negotiations,” Biden said. “But here’s what we won’t be open to: we will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction simply is not an option.”

The president unveiled the $2 trillion plan in Pittsburgh last week. It would be the first major investment in American infrastructure since 2015, when lawmakers passed a $305 billion bill to reauthorize federal programs and other projects. Former President Donald Trump signed the Clean Water Infrastructure Act in 2018, but that measure included only $6 billion in funding.

Biden aims to pay for the American Jobs Plan by bumping up the tax rate on corporations from 21% to 28% — an adjustment that would bring in more than a trillion dollars over 15 years. When asked Wednesday if that figure had wiggle room, the president said he’d be open to negotiating the corporate tax rate.

“There’s many other ways we can do it, but I’m willing to negotiate that,” he said. “I’ve come forward with the best, most rational way in my view and the fairest way to pay for it. But there are many other ways as well and I’m open.”

Republicans are largely unenthused by the president’s proposal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement shortly after Biden’s announcement last week that although the nation “could use a serious, targeted infrastructure plan,” the American Jobs Plan was not focused on traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges and airports.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Less than 6% of this massive proposal goes to roads and bridges,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It would spend more money just on electric cars than on America’s roads, bridges, ports, airports and waterways combined.”

During a White House press briefing Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo defended Biden’s plan, calling it “necessarily large” to mend neglected investments in infrastructure. At its core, Raimondo said, the plan is about investing in American competitiveness to strengthen the workforce, beefing up infrastructure and ensuring an equal playing field for workers.

“As the president is leading us to build back better, that means we need to do so more inclusively and ensure that these investments that we are making in broadband, in housing, in the care economy, in water are in every community in America: rural, tribal, urban, communities of color and reaching everyone across America,” Raimondo said.

During his remarks Wednesday from the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Biden also addressed criticisms that the proposal is too large and did not support traditional infrastructure. He said the country must look ahead and build out programs for the future, pointing to the electric grid and broadband internet access as examples of things that fall under his expansive view of infrastructure.

“Two hundred years ago, trains weren’t traditional infrastructure either, until America made a choice to lay down tracks across the country,” the president said. “Highways weren’t traditional infrastructure until we allowed ourselves to imagine that roads could connect our nation across state lines. The idea of infrastructure has always evolved to meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs and it’s evolving again today.”

While Biden expressed an openness to compromise on funding for the the American Jobs Plan, he reiterated Wednesday that no American making less than $400,000 annually would have their taxes raised to support the spending. Ramping up IRS tax enforcement will also be examined by the administration to fill funding gaps, penalizing large corporations or wealthy Americans for failing to accurately report earnings.

The president also urged national unity, as he has done through many speeches since taking office. He said that on the issue of infrastructure, there is no need for a slew of partisan standoffs.

“These aren’t Republican bridges, Democratic airports, Republican hospitals or a Democratic power grid,” Biden said. “Think of the transcontinental rail road, interstate highway system or the space race: we’re one nation, united and connected.”  

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