President Biden this week is set to begin sketching out his plan to commit trillions of dollars toward upgrading the country’s ailing infrastructure, fighting climate change and bolstering federal safety net programs, as Democrats try to usher in a new era of bigger government — and spending — in the aftermath of the coronavirus.
The forthcoming proposals reflect a broader political shift underway in Washington, where Democratic leaders have sought to capitalize on their 2020 election victories to advance once-dormant policy priorities and unwind years of budget cuts under administrations past.
But Biden’s aggressive agenda also may test his stated support for bipartisanship — after passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan without any Republican support — as well as the public’s willingness to embrace the sizable tax increases on wealthy families and profitable companies that may be necessary to help finance the burst in federal spending.
Biden’s push begins Wednesday, when he is scheduled to head to Pittsburgh to pitch the first part of a $3 trillion or more effort to improve the country’s roads, bridges and water systems nationwide. On Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News Sunday that Biden would follow that announcement in April with a second package to include spending on social welfare programs, addressing healthcare, child care and other issues.
The White House this week also intends to release the early contours of its 2022 budget request to Congress. The blueprint is expected to call for a major increase in domestic spending starting next fiscal year, particularly targeting federal agencies that tackle education, climate change, housing insecurity and other longtime Democratic priorities, according to the party’s top congressional aides.
For Biden, the forthcoming infrastructure and budget proposals showcase Democrats’ broader desire to rethink the role of the federal government over the course of his presidency. Biden himself teased the transformation he seeks at an event in the Rose Garden earlier this month, linking his philosophy to the massive anti-poverty campaign waged by President Lyndon B. Johnson about six decades ago.
“It’s critical to demonstrate that government can function — can function and deliver prosperity, security, and opportunity for the people in this country,” Biden said.
But Biden’s ambitions largely rest in the hands of Congress, where Democrats maintain only a faint, sometimes politically fractious majority — and Republicans have sounded early notes of opposition to his approach.
“I’m very disappointed with what I’m reading,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters last week. While she said infrastructure reform is bipartisan, she expressed early fears that the debate may ultimately end up like the stimulus, attracting no GOP support because of the White House’s thinking on issues including social welfare.
“I think we need to talk to the American people and say, ‘Is this what you envision with infrastructure?’” Capito said. “‘Are these job creators? Are we re-engineering our own social fabric here with a 50-vote majority?’”
By proposing the new infrastructure spending separately, the Biden administration may be aiming to preserve early political support for what most agree is a pressing national priority — allowing Democrats to forge ahead later, and possibly on their own, to tackle social-welfare programs.
“Roads, railways, rebuilding them, that’s not a partisan issue. That’s a lot of what the president will talk about this Wednesday,” Psaki said Sunday.
For Democrats, the infrastructure and budget plans Biden is set to release this week reflect an emboldened party still celebrating its stimulus victory. Many top lawmakers and White House officials maintain the package, known as the American Rescue Plan, is popular with voters across the political spectrum — and they now seek to build on its passage with a flurry of longer-term legislative efforts.