Biden Cites 110-Year-Old New Jersey Bridge to Push Infrastructure Bill
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden argued for his economic agenda in New Jersey on Monday, pointing to a train bridge in the state that sometimes can’t be closed without the help of sledgehammers as a sign of decaying U.S. infrastructure.
Biden’s visit was part of his campaign to build public support for a pair of bills congressional Democrats are debating to invest trillions of dollars in public works and to fight climate change and bolster social welfare.
His New Jersey stops also put him alongside Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat facing re-election next week.
Biden called the Portal Bridge, the busiest train bridge in the Western Hemisphere, “a choke point, a bottleneck, an Achilles heel on the Northeast Corridor.”
The 110-year-old swing bridge over the Hackensack River, owned by Amtrak Corp., opens about 100 times a year, and about 15% of the time “something goes wrong,” Biden said.
Occasionally, workers with sledgehammers have to beat the bridge closed, he said. “Literally a sledgehammer and knock it back into place, in the year 2021,” he said at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the bridge’s replacement. “Aging infrastructure like this is more than inconvenience or a nuisance -- it’s an impediment.”
The replacement bridge is the first phase of the Gateway project, a massive bridge-and-tunnel expansion and renovation effort designed to double train capacity over the Hudson River.
Before the pandemic, about 820,000 rail passengers a day traveled to New York City or some other destination in the Northeast. The project’s sponsors have warned that a failure on the tracks that include the bridge would cause economic harm to a region that is key to 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Biden’s trip is part of a series the White House scheduled to build public support for the president’s economic agenda, which includes increased spending on infrastructure and social programs. Biden told reporters earlier Monday he’s hopeful to strike a deal with congressional Democrats on the “Build Back Better” climate and welfare plan before he departs for a series of international meetings in Europe on Thursday.
“This initiative is about betting on America, about believing in America,” he said. “Let’s get this done, let’s move.”
Biden is trying to reach an agreement with moderates in the Senate who have objected to the price tag for the social spending legislation, initially proposed at $3.5 trillion over a decade. He met over the weekend with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as they sought a compromise agreement on a smaller version of the legislation.
Progressive Democrats in the House have said they will not vote for a separate, $550 billion infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate in a bipartisan vote until an agreement on the larger social spending measure is reached.
That infrastructure legislation includes $30 billion in funding for the Northeast Corridor, including $6 billion in grants to Amtrak for routine maintenance and upgrades. The bill also includes an additional $8 billion for capital investment grants to expand transit capacity, and nearly $8 billion for New Jersey to replace highways and bridges.
New Jersey Representative Josh Gottheimer, a centrist Democrat who has criticized liberals for blocking the infrastructure bill, will join Biden for his remarks at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny.
“With the Gateway Tunnel, SALT, accessible child care, climate provisions and two million jobs a year on the line, it is great to join President Biden today to highlight the importance of getting both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and a smart reconciliation bill across the finish line,” he said in a statement.
SALT is a reference to a $10,000 limit for state and local tax deductions. Some Democrats, especially in New York and New Jersey, are pushing to eliminate the cap, or increase the deduction, as part of Biden’s spending plan. Representative Bill Pascrell urged Biden to make SALT deductions more generous in remarks before the president spoke Monday.
“I am optimistic that we will see all these critical Jersey priorities move forward this week, helping to get shovels in the ground and people to work,” Gottheimer said. “For New Jersey and for the whole country, we simply can’t afford to wait any longer.”
Biden also visited a New Jersey elementary school to highlight elements of his social spending plan that would benefit the parents of young children. The president’s proposed plan would include funding for universal pre-K, extend child tax cuts, and provide assistance for childcare costs -- though benefits are expected to narrow in the final version of the legislation.
The North Plainfield district Biden visited already offers free preschool to all 4-year-olds. The White House says the district could expand that program to cover 3-year-olds if the legislation passes.
The president was joined on both stops by Murphy, who is currently leading Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli by six percentage points according to an Emerson College/PIX 11 poll released Thursday. The election is Nov. 2.
Biden is expected to campaign with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday. McAuliffe also holds a narrow lead over his Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, according to an analysis of polls by FiveThirtyEight.
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