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President Joe Biden urged Congress to move quickly on a large infrastructure improvement plan in a meeting Feb. 11 with four senators, declaring that China is poised to “eat our lunch” otherwise.
Biden said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping for about two hours in a call on Feb. 10.
“If we don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch,” he told reporters in the Oval Office, describing Chinese plans to invest billions of dollars in rail projects, automobile manufacturing and environmental improvements.
“It used to be that infrastructure wasn’t a Democratic or Republican issue,” Biden said. “We’re going to see what we can put together.”
Infrastructure-related stocks have rallied this year. United Rentals Inc., which rents equipment to the construction industry, jumped 19% this year through Feb. 10, the biggest gain on a Standard & Poor’s index of U.S. industrial companies. Martin Marietta Materials Inc., which supplies aggregates such as sand and gravel, climbed 11% while rival Vulcan Materials Co. gained 7.4%.
The senators joining him were Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee; Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, the senior Republican on the panel; James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican who is a former chairman of the committee; and Ben Cardin of Maryland, chairman of the Small Business Committee.
Both Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have repeatedly advocated for an infrastructure program they call “build back better.” At the same time, lawmakers who’ve been stymied in past efforts are also preparing to push a major national building program.
Buttigieg also participated in the Feb. 11 meeting via video conference.
Within the White House, the plan is in an advanced stage of development, according to two people familiar with the matter. Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Biden, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Feb. 10 that the administration often discusses the infrastructure plan together with Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, which he calls the American Rescue Plan.
“When we met with CEOs, when we meet with business groups, when we meet with our friends in labor, we’re talking about the American Rescue Plan and we’re talking about Build Back Better in terms of an infrastructure plan to fix the deferred maintenance in this country, to invest in broadband and things of that nature and to continue to put people back to work, stimulate the economy and get us going as a country,” Richmond said.
While the fragile economy, suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic, provides motivation for stimulus funding on infrastructure, any such effort will face formidable roadblocks: how to pay for it and tricky politics.
In addition to traditional infrastructure programs, such as building roads and shoring up bridges, the Biden administration wants to install charging stations for electric vehicles and add protections against climate change. Some of this nontraditional spending has faced skepticism from Republicans.
Funding for such programs has been a challenge. Last year, the Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund’s balance fell by more than half. Biden has not proposed specific funding for his plan but has said he does not support raising the national gas tax.
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