President Joe Biden returned Wednesday to his birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvania, using the once-thriving, now-struggling town to argue that America’s global competitiveness hinges on his embattled infrastructure and social spending bills.
The bills are stalled in Congress because of disagreement among lawmakers in his Democratic Party.
“What are we doing?” a clearly frustrated Biden said. He spoke at Scranton’s Electric City Trolley Museum after several days of closed-door meetings at the White House with holdouts in his party. “This is the United States of America, damn it.”
Scranton earned its “Electric City" nickname as the home of one of the country’s first electric trolley lines in the late 1880s. But the city went into severe industrial decline after World War II, a trajectory that Biden said might also be America’s future.
“For most of the 20th century, we led the world by a significant margin,” Biden said. “Because we invested in our people, we invested in ourselves, not only in our roads and our highways and bridges but in our people and our families. We didn't just build an interstate highway system — we built a highway to the sky, to outer space.”
While both are domestic legislative priorities, Biden often touts the infrastructure and the social spending bills, which include provisions for climate change mitigation, in the context of maintaining America’s global competitive edge. He focused on how provisions in the legislation would allow the country to better compete with China, which already has at least 35,405 kilometers of high-speed rail and is planning to double that by 2035.
“You realize the Chinese are now building another high-speed rail line that will go up to 300 miles per hour,” Biden said. “You say, ‘What difference does that make, Biden?’ Well, guess what? If you can get into a train and go from here to Washington much faster than to go in an automobile, you take a train. ... We will take literally millions of automobiles off the road, saving tens of millions of barrels of oil.”
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research institution in Washington, noted that these bills, which proponents say are meant to directly benefit Americans, are also necessary if the United States wants to maintain its global edge. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. trails Brazil, China, India and Mexico on clean energy and advanced communications infrastructure.
“The bipartisan infrastructure plan creates the foundation needed for the U.S. to achieve its economic and environmental goals,” Grumet said. ”We simply can’t build a clean modern economy on top of outdated and degraded systems. ... Put simply, modern infrastructure is the key to confronting climate change and strengthening the U.S. economy.”
During a visit to Hartford, Connecticut, last week, Biden pushed for his social spending bill, which includes more government investment in child care.
"How can we compete in the world if millions of American parents, especially moms, can't be part of the work force because they can't afford the cost of child care or elder care?" he asked at a child development center.
Lower price tag
On Tuesday, in hopes of reaching a compromise, Biden hosted moderate and progressive members of his party at the White House. To secure the support of moderate Democrats, the bill’s top line is likely to end up between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, down from Biden’s original $3.5 trillion plan strongly supported by progressives.
Biden needs the votes of all 50 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate in a budget procedure known as reconciliation, but moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema say the price tag is too high.
This was the first time Biden had returned to Scranton since taking office. As a presidential candidate he chose his hometown of 550,000 to advance the idea of “Scranton vs. Wall Street,” pledging that his administration would shift the economic advantage from wealthy investors back to average Americans.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.