Biden pushes $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan during Louisiana visit

President Joe Biden visited the reliably Republican state of Louisiana on Thursday, speaking in front of a decades-old bridge in need of repair while pushing the case for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

Biden gave remarks in Lake Charles, a city along the Gulf Coast that was slammed by two hurricanes last year. The president touted his proposed infrastructure plans that would invest in roads and bridges and hundreds of billions of dollars more to upgrade the electrical grid, make the water system safer, rebuild homes and jump-start the manufacturing of electric vehicles.

Behind him was the 70-year-old Calcasieu River Bridge that is 20 years past its designed lifespan. Biden said there are more than 45,000 U.S. bridges "that are structurally deficient," and more than 1 in 5 miles of highways are in bad condition.

"When it comes to bridges or roads alike, I've never seen a Republican or Democrat road, I just see roads," Biden said.

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The president is proposing to pay for the plan, which the White House calls the "American Jobs Plan," by undoing the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump and raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Biden contends his programs would bolster the middle class and make the country stronger than tax cuts for big companies and CEOs.

"The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America, to supercharge our economy," Biden said.

The president hinted at the theme when answering questions from reporters after a Wednesday speech at the White House that also emphasized his separate $1.8 trillion "American Families Plan" for education and children to be funded by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"What’s going to grow America more?" Biden said. "What’s going to help you and your security more? The super wealthy having to pay 3.9% less tax or having an entire generation of Americans having associate degrees?"

"Guess what," he added. "It grows the economy. Benefits everybody. Hurts nobody."

Republican lawmakers have doubled down on low taxes as a core pillar of their ideology and partisan identity. Several GOP senators favor spending $568 billion on infrastructure over five years, a small fraction of what the Democratic president has proposed — a sign of how difficult a deal might be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Republicans would rather finance infrastructure through user fees such as tolls and gasoline taxes, though he declined to specify which fees he would back.

"We’re open to doing a roughly $600 billion package, which deals with what all of us agree is infrastructure and to talk about how to pay for that in any way other than reopening the 2017 tax reform bill," McConnell said this week at the University of Louisville.

The visit Thursday to Louisiana is part of the administration’s "Getting America Back on Track Tour" to help pitch the spending proposals. 

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Hurricanes battered Lake Charles, a city of 78,000 residents, twice last year over the course of six weeks. Biden also plans to tour a water plant in New Orleans.

"We’ve got to build for what is needed now," Biden said. "We’ve got to build to withstand storms becoming more severe."

His infrastructure package received support in a newspaper editorial last week by Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, a Republican, and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, a Democrat.

"The unfortunate truth is that our aging infrastructure and local government budgets cannot withstand the strain of increasingly frequent storms," they wrote. "As mayors of great American cities in the South, we lie awake at night dreading each forecasted storm."

There is general agreement among Democrats and Republicans in Washington about the need for infrastructure spending in the country. But there are significant hurdles for Biden's proposal to garner Republican backing.

Republicans want to define infrastructure more narrowly, concentrating on roads, bridges, airports, transit and broadband rather than renewable energy and access to caregivers. They object to undoing the 2017 tax cuts and imposing higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Cincinnati.