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Biden Administration To Unveil Expansive $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan


Later today in Pittsburgh, President Biden will make his opening pitch for an infrastructure plan that he hopes will reshape the U.S. economy. It is enormous, and it will attempt to take on what the White House calls great challenges for the country - climate change, competition with China and racial injustice. NPR's Tamara Keith has been looking into it. Good morning, Tam.


KING: What's in this plan?

KEITH: Yeah, they are calling this the American Jobs Plan, and the price tag is about $2 trillion. A big chunk of it is focused on physical infrastructure - roads, bridges, public transit, extending broadband into parts of rural America that still don't have high-speed Internet. Also, spending on the electric grid and sewer and water systems. Think about what happened in Texas this year or what happened in Flint, Mich. Also, upgrading housing, schools and hospitals - a lot of focus on union jobs and helping underserved communities, both urban and rural. It specifically talks about trying to entice manufacturers to areas affected by a loss of coal jobs and helping address racial inequities by reconnecting neighborhoods that were cut off by previous highway-building.

But this sweeping proposal is only part one. Next month, Biden is set to propose investments in health care, child care and education.

KING: There is a lot in part one, but why is Biden waiting a month to talk about part two?

KEITH: You know, historically, infrastructure was an area where Democrats and Republicans in Congress actually worked together, the sort of traditional idea of infrastructure, and there's a widespread acknowledgement that there's a huge backlog that needs to be addressed. I spoke with former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, who told me that what can make this type of infrastructure an easier sell is that there's something tangible for every lawmaker to tell their constituents about.

HEIDI HEITKAMP: You get a bridge, and you get a bridge, and you get a bridge, and you get a road, and you get a hospital (laughter). It's the Oprah of infrastructure.

KEITH: Moderate Democrats may make a big show about demanding that it be targeted, and Republicans certainly will, says Heitkamp.

HEITKAMP: If people see that it is legitimately an advancement of infrastructure and not, like, a Christmas tree bill for every other priority, I think that that will get a lot of traction.

KEITH: This is a big, expensive proposal with a lot of elements. But many of those elements address vexing infrastructure problems affecting communities all over the country and from across the political spectrum. Reverend William Barber from the Poor People's Campaign, who delivered a sermon at the inauguration, says Biden needs to go big, be more ambitious than FDR's New Deal, given the depth of suffering exposed and created by the pandemic.

WILLIAM BARBER: In this moment, why not do it all rather than do pieces? And I understand the politics of it, but let's get it all out there.

KEITH: Barber says there's a risk in going too narrow.

BARBER: Where you do the roads, but you don't prioritize rural and urban areas. Or you do the bridges, but you don't look at environmentally sustainable infrastructure jobs and the health care and the public health infrastructure and the training and the capacity. It's not or; it's and. It's and.

KEITH: And the proposal President Biden will lay out today really does try to marry all of those issues that Barber talked about.

KING: It would also cost more than $2 trillion just for the first part. How does Biden propose paying for it?

KEITH: They want to roll back some of the tax cuts that Republicans and President Trump pushed through in 2017 for corporations and put in place more taxes on companies that move profits overseas. It would put the corporate tax rate at 28%. That's still historically low - about half of the way back to where it was before the Trump tax cuts. And there's something that Democrats are starting to talk about more. They say, don't get hung up on the idea of paying for it, dollar for dollar, because infrastructure investment pays for itself over time by creating jobs.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.