Biden’s ‘jobs Cabinet’ to sell infrastructure as GOP resists

  • A city street is closed for repairs and upgrades Thursday in Orlando, Fla. As part of an infrastructure proposal by the Biden administration, $115 billion is earmarked to modernize the bridges, highways and roads that are in the worst shape. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is setting about convincing America it needs his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, deputizing a five-member “jobs Cabinet” to help in the effort. But the enormity of his task is clear after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vowed to oppose the plan “every step of the way.”

Speaking in Kentucky on Thursday, McConnell said he likes Biden and they’ve been friends a long time. But the president will get no cooperation from the GOP, which objects to the corporate tax increases in the plan and says they would hurt America’s ability to compete in a global economy.

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“We have some big philosophical differences, and that’s going to make it more and more difficult for us to reach bipartisan agreements,” the Republican leader said.

Biden, speaking at the White House on Friday, noted that Republicans have been talking for years about the need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and he predicted that GOP lawmakers would face pressure from their supporters if they don’t act.

“I think the Republican voters are going to have a lot to say about whether we get a lot of this done,” Biden said.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said the key to any outreach is that the proposal’s ideas are already popular. Americans want smooth roads, safe bridges, reliable public transit, electric vehicles, drinkable water, new schools and investments in manufacturing, among the plan’s many components, he said.

“We kind of think it’s just right,” Klain said in a televised interview with the news organization Politico. “But we’re happy to have a conversation with people, less about the price tag, more about what are the elements that should be in the plan that people think are missing.”

Those conversations could be limited to Democrats as McConnell declared: “I’m going to fight them every step of the way.”

Biden told his Cabinet at its first meeting that he is enlisting several of them to help with the push: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

“Working with my team here at the White House, each Cabinet member will represent me in dealings with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan and help organize the details as we refine it and move forward,” Biden said.

The task will involve lots of salesmanship for a legacy-making piece of legislation that Biden announced in a Wednesday speech.

“Changes in my plan are certain,” Biden acknowledged on Friday, “but inaction is not an option.”

His administration must sway Congress. It needs to rally voters. It’s also looking to outside economists to back the plan.

It’s monitoring Wall Street for any celebrations or jitters. It’s forming alliances with advocates, while dealing with critics of the plan’s corporate tax hikes and project details. And Biden’s administration also intends, per the plan, to cajole other nations to stop slashing their own tax rates in what has been a race-to-the-bottom to attract and retain multinational businesses.

Biden’s vehicle for financing his infrastructure plans is a key dividing line. Republicans object to raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, one of the many changes so that business taxes would fund infrastructure. Republicans had cut the corporate rate from 35% in 2017, a hallmark policy achievement of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Within Washington and corporate board rooms, the administration is attracting its share of accolades and rebukes on his proposal.

In Biden’s own party, liberal Democrats in Congress want him to go bigger. And Democrats representing high-tax states want to remove a 2017 tax code change that limited deductions of state and local taxes for individuals.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed no qualms about the proposal’s scope.

“It was in the tradition of America — to think big,” Pelosi said at a press conference Thursday. “And now, in this century, President Biden is undertaking something in the tradition of thinking big, being transformational and creating jobs for America.”

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