Biden Promises New ‘Paradigm’ in Economic Program Next Week
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg)

Biden Promises New ‘Paradigm’ in Economic Program Next Week

President Joe Biden said he will unveil his long-term economic rejuvenation plan next week, promising increased support for the middle class and a major ramp-up in investment and infrastructure spending that will strengthen the U.S. position against China.

“I want to change the paradigm -- we start to reward work, not just wealth,” Biden said Thursday in his first press conference since taking office. He alluded to expanded support for health care and tax changes to address a system that currently contributes to “feathering the nest of the wealthiest Americans.”

The administration included a major expansion of the earned income tax credit for lower-income workers in the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief plan Biden signed this month, along with an increase in the child tax credit. Democratic lawmakers are pushing for permanent extensions of those measures, while White House aides are working on tax hikes for companies and the richest Americans to help pay for the elements that will make up the “Build Back Better” program.

Biden said he would be unveiling that program during a visit to Pittsburgh, scheduled for next Wednesday.

The president also cited a raft of data that described a dire state of American infrastructure, from the poor condition of highways to endemic delays on passenger flights to millions of homes that still have lead piping in their water supply. While America allowed its transportation and other systems to decay, China has been investing at a pace more than three times that of the U.S., Biden said.

The administration is considering proposing as much as $3 trillion worth of measures in the long-term economic program, and the president’s top aides have spent the last several days weighing how to advance the plan in the face of staunch Republican opposition.

Biden highlighted that he was able to win passage of his relief plan this month without Republican support, to the surprise of many observers. And he claimed support among GOP voters, if not from the opposition party’s lawmakers.

One component of the coming long-term plan will be escalating investment in science and technology, Biden said, pledging federal support for areas including medicine, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Biden said he wants to bolster research and development spending toward 2% of gross domestic product, as he says it used to trend in the past, against 0.7% today. As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did at a congressional hearing earlier in the day, Biden positioned his broad investment push as a way to counter China.

“China has an overall goal” to become “the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world,” Biden said. “That’s not going to happen on my watch.”

Buttigieg said in opening remarks for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing Thursday that “by some measures China spends more on infrastructure every year than the U.S. and Europe combined.”

The transportation chief, whose department will play a major role in the infrastructure initiative, also said, “Across the country, we face a trillion-dollar backlog of needed repairs and improvements, with hundreds of billions of dollars in good projects already in the pipeline.”

While the details of the Build Back Better program remain in flux, aides are leaning toward separating Biden’s policy plans into two bills -- one focused on infrastructure and the other on issues including child care, college tuition and health care -- with tax increases to offset part of the cost. Biden laid out many of the policy details, including tax increases, during the campaign.

Challenging Path

The legislative path will prove challenging, because of GOP opposition and because not all of the components can be put into a budget reconciliation bill -- the vehicle that allows for passage by a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate, and which Democrats used for the Covid-19 bill.

“Under normal circumstances you’d say let’s get what we can in a bipartisan way, then let’s go to reconciliation for what we can’t get in a bipartisan way,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday.

But John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, predicted that his party wouldn’t go along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill knowing that the Democrats would be proceeding separately with a bigger package featuring items that Republicans oppose.

“If they decide to do that as a ploy to lure Republicans in to vote for the easy stuff and then do all that stuff -- the controversial stuff -- through reconciliation, I don’t think our guys are going take the bait on that,” Thune told reporters on Tuesday.

But Pelosi herself pointed out that reconciliation couldn’t be used for priorities such as green energy.

“So, that is what the challenge is,” she said. “We cannot just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future. We have to recognize the climate crisis and what we can do in terms of the greening.”

Another issue is keeping progressive and moderate Democrats unified. And unlike with the Covid-19 relief plan, which Democrats saw as a necessary response to the pandemic and continued mass unemployment, the next proposals deal with a broad set of long-term and controversial issues -- such as climate change and inequality.

While infrastructure has long been considered a bipartisan issue, Republicans balked at headlines this week that the proposal could cost trillions of dollars, and include a broader range of issues than they anticipated.

“I am defining infrastructure in my own mind as highways and broadband and wastewater,” said Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. “So, the scope of what I’m hearing is much greater than what I envisioned of infrastructure.”

“Hopefully, we can continue this conversation but it’s going way beyond the scope of what I thought an infrastructure package would be creating jobs,” Capito added.

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