U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday visited the Port of Baltimore to trumpet his newly approved $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package, which he described as “a monumental step forward.”
“It's a big deal,” Biden said of the bill, which provides for a $17 billion investment in ports as well as improvements in passenger rail service, roads and bridges across the nation. “It's going to make a big difference.”
The White House said Biden would formally sign the bill into law on Monday, when key lawmakers return to Washington from a weeklong recess.
The construction measure is aimed chiefly at repairing the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and expanding broadband internet service throughout the U.S. It includes $25 billion for airports.
The bill faced stiff pressure as it slowly made its way through Congress. It passed late Friday, 228-206, mostly along party lines, with Democrats in support. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the initiative.
“It is absurd and wrong that Democrats are considering trillions more in reckless taxing and spending,” he tweeted.
Republicans like McConnell argue that this massive investment will make inflation worse and increase taxes.
For most, no tax increase
Biden has disputed that, and on Wednesday he argued again that corporations and wealthy Americans will be called on to pay higher taxes, but that most Americans would not pay more.
“If you make less than 400 grand [$400,000 a year], you’re not going to pay anything more in taxes at all, period, guaranteed, including gasoline tax, not going to [be] additional from a federal government standpoint," he said. "And so, look — this is a once-in-a-generation investment to create good-paying jobs, modernize infrastructure, turn a climate crisis into an opportunity.”
And, the White House argued, this bill will also tackle environmental concerns.
“Port infrastructure and waterway investments will double as an investment in environmental justice in and around port facilities by deploying zero-emission technologies and reducing idling and emissions, which impair air quality in adjacent neighborhoods and communities, often which are historically disadvantaged,” the White House said ahead of the visit.
The White House said the new funding was especially needed because some rankings show that no U.S. airports rank among the top 25 worldwide for efficiency and no port is in the top 50.
The dozens of container ships anchored off the country’s Pacific Coast waiting to unload consumer goods from Asia have left many U.S. retailers short of clothes, household products and vehicles heading into the end-of-the-year holiday gift-giving season. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy, the world’s largest.
The U.S. economy has largely rebounded from the turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but with conflicting effects for American workers and shoppers, according to two new reports Wednesday.
A Labor Department report Wednesday showed that first-time claims for unemployment compensation have now fallen for six straight weeks, down to 267,000 last week, just above the 256,000 total in mid-March 2020, when the coronavirus first swept into the U.S.
But Labor said in a second report that the consumer price index increased at a three-decade-high pace in October, rising at an annualized 6.2% rate. The report indicated this largely resulted from consumer demand for hard-to-get goods and the supply chain bottleneck at U.S. ports.
Food shoppers — which is to say, all consumers — have noticed the higher prices in grocery stores, while motorists are facing sharply increased prices at gas pumps. Used car prices have jumped as well.
Biden blamed higher energy costs and supply chain shortcomings for the higher prices consumers are paying.
“Many people remain unsettled about the economy, and we all know why,” he said at the port. ”They see higher prices. They go to the store or online, and they can't find what they always want, when they want it. And we're tracking these issues and trying to figure out how to tackle them head on.”
The East Coast port Biden visited in Baltimore ranks well behind the huge Pacific Coast ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, yet it still unloaded more than 43 million tons of goods in 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House said the infrastructure spending was needed because “decades of neglect and underinvestment in our infrastructure have left the links in our goods movement supply chains struggling to keep up with the rapid and persistent increase in goods movement that the pandemic has generated.”