By Kate Sullivan, Betsy Klein, Jason Hoffman and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden traveled to mid-Michigan on Tuesday as he looks to regain momentum on his twin economic packages, which remain stalled on Capitol Hill because of sharp divisions within his own party about the size and scope of the plans.
During a speech on the trip, Biden argued that both components of his Build Back Better agenda — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and a larger $3.5 trillion bill to expand the social safety net — are essential to the country’s economic growth, particularly to support middle-class and working families.
Biden said he feels the country is at a historic turning point and that the country needs to make the kind of large-scale investments that competitors like China are making in order to kick-start the economy. The President highlighted China’s spending in education — particularly on early and higher education — and argued the US needs to make similar investments.
“We risk losing our edge as a nation. Our infrastructure used to be the best in the world, literally not figuratively,” Biden said. “Today, according to the world economic forum, we rank 13th. … All those investments that fueled a strong economy, we’ve taken our foot off the gas. The world has taken notice, by the way, including our adversaries and now they’re closing the gap in a big way.”
In addition to infrastructure, Biden said the country needs to continue to invest in its citizens, pushing measures included in the social safety net proposal being held up by Democratic infighting.
He specifically highlighted investments in public education, affordable child care and the child tax credit as well as combating the climate crisis.
The President criticized Republicans for their tax cuts for the wealthy as compared with the provisions in his legislative proposals, saying, “My friends on the other team have no problem giving billionaires and millionaires gigantic tax breaks. This is a tax cut.”
But he also argued that his proposals “are not about left versus right, or moderate versus progressive, or anything that pits Americans against one another.”
“These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency. They’re about opportunity versus decay. They’re about leading the world or continue to let the world pass us by, which is literally happening,” he continued, later adding, “This isn’t about two pieces of legislation, it’s about the inflection point I mentioned earlier we are in our history, the world history.”
Biden spoke at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 training facility in Howell, and received a tour ahead of his remarks.
The trip to Michigan came after the President met virtually with Democratic members of the House to discuss the two economic packages. Senior White House officials were up on Capitol Hill last week trying to broker an agreement but were unsuccessful in hammering out a framework that enough members would sign on to, which forced Democrats to punt on the agenda.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the White House said the meeting was a “productive discussion about how each of these economic growth packages, both physical and human infrastructure, are central to how we ensure our economy delivers for the middle class and secure our competitiveness in the world.”
Biden told reporters after his speech in Michigan that he hopes West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — a moderate in the party who holds a key vote in the evenly split Senate — would support a spending package with a price tag above the $2.2 trillion currently being floated.
Asked if he thinks Manchin would support a social safety net package of more than $2.2 trillion, Biden said, “Well, you heard him on television today, it sure sounds like he’s moving. I hope that’s the case.”
On Tuesday, Manchin did not rule out a range between $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion for the package.
Biden also made clear that he knows he won’t be able to get all aspects of what he wants to include in his social safety net legislation, but said he thinks a bill will ultimately get done and he plans to build off of that package over time.
When asked ahead of his departure from Michigan what he intends to cut from that package to trim the cost by about $1 trillion, Biden said, “That’s what we’re negotiating now.”
“My objective is to get everything that I campaigned on passed eventually. It won’t all happen at once. … We’ll get a compromise. But it doesn’t mean that’s the end of what’s in the rest of the package,” he added.
Meanwhile, the deadline to raise the debt ceiling to avoid the US defaulting for the first time ever is less than two weeks away. Congress has until October 18 to increase the country’s borrowing limit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers last week, or there could be catastrophic consequences.
Biden said on Monday he couldn’t guarantee the debt ceiling would be raised in time because of “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful” Republican opposition. Congressional Republicans are refusing to supply any votes to raise the debt limit, and Biden said they should vote on a bipartisan basis to pay for bills for which both parties are responsible.
A nonprofit advocacy group trying to build support for Biden’s policy agenda announced it was launching a televised ad campaign in Michigan ahead of the President’s visit.
Build Back Together posted on Twitter: “We are launching a six-figure TV investment in Michigan, ahead of @POTUS trip to Howell, to highlight how the #BuildBackBetter agenda will create jobs and lower costs for everyday families, while making the ultra-wealthy finally pay their fair share!”
Howell is located in a key swing district to watch ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The district, which stretches from the heavily Democratic state capital of Lansing through more Republican rural parts of southeastern Michigan toward the edge of the Detroit suburbs, is the home of moderate Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who was first elected in 2018. Slotkin was on site for Biden’s visit.
Former President Donald Trump bested Biden in the 2020 presidential election in Livingston County, which is where Howell is located, by 60.5% to 37.9%. In 2016, Trump led Hillary Clinton 61.7% to 32.2%. Slotkin won Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Livingston County, 50.9% to 47.3%.
This story has been updated with further developments Tuesday.
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