Joe Biden criticised Donald Trump for his administration’s failures to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, as the president promotes his $2.2 trillion “once in a generation” investment that would touch nearly every aspect of American life and tap millions of workers.
“Across the country, we have failed – we have failed to properly invest in infrastructure for half a century,” the president said in remarks from Lake Charles, Louisiana, which endured two hurricanes in 2020 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Over the last four years, how many times did you hear this was going to be ‘infrastructure week?’” he said. “I got so tired of hearing ‘infrastructure week’ – nothing happened.”
Mr Biden’s American Jobs Plan proposes nationwide improvements to roads and bridges, water systems, broadband internet access and supply-chain production, among other areas, while arguing for US manufacturing and innovation to keep up with competitors like China and to meet the pace of the climate crisis and growing socioeconomic disparities.
In southwest Louisiana, that could include a replacement for the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles, which opened in 1952 and has been labeled “structurally deficient” by the Louisiana Department of Transportation.
The bridge is 20 years older than its intended lifespan.
“It shouldn’t be this hard or take this long to fix a bridge that’s this important,” Mr Biden said.
The president last visited Lake Charles when he was vice president in 2010, five years after the region began recovering from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Following hurricanes Delta and Laura in 2020, Lake Charles lost 6.7 per cent of its population, the highest rate in the US, according to an analysis from The New York Times.
Four per cent of its residents, roughly 3,000 people, remain displaced more than eight months after Hurricane Laura. Preliminary results from the 2020 Census found that the state saw a 2.7 per cent overall decrease in its population from a decade ago.
A housing study from the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana found all households in Calcasieu Parish filed claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and more than 44,000 homes – roughly half of the parish’s housing stock – were damaged in at least one of the storms.
More than a quarter of all homes were damaged and labeled “uninhabitable,” the report found.
“I know the times have been tough here, the damage from the hurricanes has been devastating,” Mr Biden said opening his remarks. “But the people of Louisiana have always picked themselves up.”
The state’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards said significant investments in infrastructure are “more important here than perhaps anywhere.”
“Our needs still far exceed our means,” he said, pointing to a $14bn backlog on infrastructure projects across the state. “The fact of the matter is we need assistance from the federal government.”
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter – a Republican, who recently co-authored an op-ed with Shreveport’s Democratic Mayor Adrian Perkins urging Congress to support the American Jobs Plan – introduced Mr Biden on Thursday.
“I do believe we can agree on the dire need to support disaster relief in southwest Louisiana,” Mr Hunter said.
In his remarks, Mr Biden said: “I find more support from Republican governors and mayors and Democratic governors and mayors around the country because they’ve got to answer the question: Is life better in this town, this city, this state than it was before I got elected?”
The White House gave Louisiana a D+ grade for its infrastructure in its state-by-state assessment.
Following his visit to Lake Charles, the president travelled to New Orleans on the state’s southeastern edge.
There, he is scheduled to tour a Sewerage & Water Board facility that houses the city’s century-old turbines – more than half of which are broken – that power a series of drainage pumps.
The city has been plagued with declining storm infrastructure and a lack of significant funding or sustainable construction to address flooding from more-severe storms and hurricanes amid the rising threats from the climate crisis.
Mr Biden’s plan has broad support among Americans, according to the latest Morning Consult poll, which found that nearly 60 per cent of Americans support the plan, including 86 per cent of Democrats.
Congressional Republicans have largely rejected the White House proposal and offered up a slimmed-down $568bn infrastructure bill as a compromise.
Republicans have dismissed the plan as overly broad in their arguments over the semantics of traditional infrastructure and raised concerns about its price tag despite spending freely during Mr Trump’s tenure.
Mr Biden has stressed that he is willing to compromise on the proposal to reflect the bipartisan support for it elsewhere, but only to a point.
“What I’m not ready to do, I’m not ready to do nothing,” he said on Thursday. “I’m not ready to have another period where America has for another infrastructure month and doesn’t change a damn thing.”
Mr Biden made his pitch – underscoring the widespread bipartisan agreement among state and local officials of both parties for significant investments in infrastructure – in a deep South state where the “all politics is local” adage is deeply embedded in its political and social realities.
Mr Trump won Louisiana in 2016 and 2020 elections. The state’s Democratic governor won his second term in 2019.
The American Jobs Plan would raise more than $2 trillion over 15 years by raising the corporate tax rate, partially rolling back Mr Trump’s massive tax cuts in 2017, and closing loopholes and reforming other elements of the tax code that has allowed large companies to skirt or eliminate their liabilities.
His plan is separate from the American Families Plan, which proposes similarly sweeping investments to the nation’s social safety nets, including funding for childcare and universal preschool and tuition-free community college.
“No one’s hurt,” Mr Biden said, echoing previous remarks that “nothing will change” for the nation’s wealthiest under proposed tax hikes. “Someone making that money is still going to have two homes, jet planes. ... But we are going to be able to put tens of thousands of kids in preschool and free community college.”