WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama outlined plans to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, Republicans blocked them. President Donald Trump declared it to be “infrastructure week” so often that the phrase became a running joke, yet he failed to follow through with legislation.
Now President Joe Biden, eager to act boldly, believes he can succeed where his predecessors did not.
Holding his second meeting in a month on the subject Thursday, Biden made clear that he intends to focus on another multitrillion-dollar legislative package after Congress sends the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan to his desk this month — the next one a massive infrastructure initiative along the lines of FDR’s federal works projects of the 1930s.
“It not only creates jobs, but it makes us a hell of a lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure in the world,” Biden said at the outset of the Oval Office meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Leaving the White House afterward, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., told reporters that the president “wants to move as quickly as possible.”
“He wants it to be very big, and he feels that this is the key to the recovery package,” DeFazio said.
As with the pandemic relief package, Biden plans to promote an infrastructure plan by emphasizing the urgent need for ambitious actions to help the country recover economically and compete with China.
For years, both major parties have called for modernizing the country’s highways, roads, airports, rail lines, broadband networks and power grids. Last month’s power crisis in Texas, which left millions of people in the cold without running water or electricity, underscored the need for action. And this week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its analysis of the nation’s infrastructure, giving it a C-minus — an improvement, actually, from last year’s D — and signaling again that a major federal investment is long overdue.
“We’re at a crossroads. Inaction will only worsen the suffering that working people have weathered over the past year,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “But if we commit to rebuilding our communities on an unprecedented scale, we can get through this crisis stronger than before.”
The infrastructure push, like the coronavirus relief package, has support not just from labor unions, traditionally a more Democratic constituency, but also the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is urging action by July 4 and stands ready to pressure both parties to unite around landmark legislation.