President Joe Biden announced the largest investment in American infrastructure since the end of World War II and at its heart was organized labor and the IBEW.
On a symbolic level, the president was introduced by an IBEW member, lineman Mike Fiore, a second-generation member of Pittsburgh Local 29.
|Biden chose Pittsburgh Local 29 lineman Mike Fiore to introduce him. The second-generation member would be one of thousands of IBEW members put to work modernizing the nation’s electrical grid if Congress passes the president’s proposal.
But symbolism was not the star of the show. The substance of Biden’s $2 trillion plan targets the parts of the economy – the grid, broadband, rail, transit – IBEW members know best and promises enough work to carry a newly minted apprentice clear through to retirement.
Baked into the American Jobs Plan are requirements for prevailing wages, buy America, and protections for workers to have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.
“Even if the stimulus bill hadn’t just been passed, even if the president hadn’t just loaded the NLRB and OSHA with people who will look out for workers, the American Jobs Plan would make good on Joe Biden’s promise to the American union worker,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.
“I have never seen anything like this in my life, and no president since Franklin Roosevelt has put organized labor and workers’ rights at the center of American policy like President Biden.”
The plan is vast, but so is the need. The U.S. transportation network alone has a $3 trillion dollar backlog in repairs. But repair is not enough. After decades of living off the investments made in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, the president, speaking at the Carpenter’s union training center in Pittsburgh, said now is the time for us to build our nation’s future.
“I began my campaign in Pittsburgh saying I was running to rebuild the backbone of America. Today I return as president to lay out the vision of how we do that,” Biden said. “Imagine knowing you are handing your children and grandkids a country that will lead the world.”
The proposed bill touches nearly every part of the economy. For roads, bridges, ports and highways, Biden announced more than $600 billion in proposed improvements. And unlike the 2009 infrastructure program passed while Biden was Vice President, funding goes beyond shovel ready projects to the deep, lasting transformational infrastructure that doesn’t just solve today’s problems but the ones that are coming.
The single largest line item is $174 billion investment in electrifying the transportation sector, including a grant program for 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030, replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles and electrifying at least 20 percent of the yellow school buses as well as the USPS fleet.
Another $115 billion would repair or replace at least 20,000 miles of roads, including full replacement for the 10 most economically significant at-risk bridges and repairs for 10,000 smaller bridges across the country.
Public transit systems would receive $85 billion to modernize and expand service; $80 billion would go to addressing Amtrak’s repair backlog, modernizing and improving existing corridors; and $25 billion would be allocated to modernize our airports. Another $17 billion will fund improvements to inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry and ferries.
The next largest section of the bill is a $511 billion investment in the grid, broadband internet and the water system.
At least $300 billion is targeted specifically for grid modernization, including thousands of miles of new transmission lines to connect new generation to load.
The bill also transforms the excruciatingly slow approval process for transmission, creating a Grid Deployment Authority at the Department of Energy to focus development along existing rights-of-way – primarily roads and railways.
Clean energy tax credits would be extended for a decade and will be paired with strong labor standards.
The $100 billion marked for broadband expansion will focus on the underserved rural communities with no access to high-speed internet and finishing the so-called “final mile” for people without access even if there is existing infrastructure where they live.
The plan also funds 15 demonstration decarbonized hydrogen generation plants and 10 large-scale carbon capture retrofits for steel, cement and chemical production facilities that could spur the expansion of the technology nationwide.
The federal government spends more than a half-a-trillion dollars buying goods and services each year and can be a “first-mover” for technologies that have the potential to be transformational but haven’t yet been adopted by risk-averse private companies.
The plan includes $46 billion for to kick start the markets for advanced nuclear reactors and fuels, electric vehicles and charging ports, and electric heat pumps for residential heating and commercial buildings.
All of the government supported projects will have buy America requirements and strong labor standards with a “free and fair choice to join a union and bargain collectively.”
An additional $213 billion will support produce, preserve, and retrofit more than two million affordable and sustainable places to live requiring prevailing wage standards, potentially boosting the IBEW’s commitment to take back residential market share.
Public infrastructure isn’t just roads and the grid.
Manufacturing gets a $300 billion investment to expand the domestic supply chain for critical industries and to refill the nation’s strategic stockpile of medical goods.
The plan includes $135 billion to upgrade public schools, specifically mentioning electrification and energy-efficiency.
The president also included what he called “the largest non-defense expansion of research and development in the nation’s history,” $180 billion focused on developing an American manufacturing base for the technologies that will fight climate change and dominate 21st century economies including semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology and advanced energy technologies.
And to make sure the nation has the workers with the skills to do these new jobs, there is $100 billion for workforce training, including nearly $50 billion to support pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs specifically targeting areas of the country and populations most harmed by the move to a fully carbon free economy.
None of these matters for working families unless the new jobs are good, union jobs, so in his announcement President Biden urged Congress, once again, to pass the PRO act, the most dramatic expansion of workers’ rights protection since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.
He also insisted that all federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure be tied to prevailing wages and require transportation investments to meet existing transit labor protections.
“Unions built the middle class. It’s about time they start to get a piece of the action,” Biden said.
He said his vision for the bill was “not seen through the eyes of Wall Street or Washington. People like Mike. Union workers. People looking for a little bit of breathing room. People looking for a little bit of light.”
To pay for the bill, Biden says he will partially reverse the catastrophic corporate tax cut the previous administration rammed through four years ago, still leaving the rate 7% lower than it was during the economic boom when he was Vice President.
He also plans to increase funding to the IRS’s corporate audit department, finally giving it the resources to take on the tax scofflaws in the Fortune 500. Ninety-one of the largest U.S. companies paid nothing in federal taxes in 2018.
“No one should be able to complain about that. It’s still lower than what that rate was between World War II and 2017. Just doing that one thing will generate $1 trillion in additional revenue over 15 years,” Biden said.
The Biden Administration proposed a minimum corporate tax based not on the income they report to the IRS but the amount they report to their shareholders.
He also announced plans to force the nation’s wealthiest – 651 billionaires grew $1.3 trillion richer just during the pandemic – to finally support the country that made their success possible.
“I start with one rule: No one – let me say it again – no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up. Period,” he said. “I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires. I believe in American capitalism. I want everyone to do well.”
And finally, the Biden plan kills the tax deduction that rewarded companies for sending jobs overseas.
The choice, he said, is simple: figure out a way to address the challenges of the 21st century or watch the nation fade and, with it, the promise that free people can solve the problems they face.
“You know, there’s a lot of autocrats in the world who think the reason why they’re going to win is democracies can’t reach consensus any longer; autocracies do. That’s what competition between America and China and the rest of the world is all about. It’s a basic question: Can democracies still deliver for their people? Can they get a majority?” he said. “I believe we can. I believe we must.”
And for those who claim the price is too much to pay, Biden said watching the nation crumble has its own, much higher cost.
“Failing to make these investments adds to our debt and effectively puts our children at a disadvantage relative to our competitors. That’s what crumbling infrastructure does,” he said. “What’s more, it heightens our vulnerability, attracts our adversaries to compete in ways that they haven’t up to now. We can afford to make them — or, put another way, we can’t afford not to.”