In Cleveland, Biden seeks to seize control of economic message, sell infrastructure plan as talks drag

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden heads to Cleveland today looking to reassure Americans the economy is rebounding and sell his infrastructure plan as the White House remains in a stalemate with Senate Republicans over negotiations for a bipartisan deal.

In an economic-themed speech, Biden will counter a narrative pushed by Republicans, who have pointed to rising inflation as a sign he is moving the economy in the wrong direction with his big-spending measures.

The president will use the speech to “make a clear case that his economic plan is working,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. She said Biden will discuss “how far we have come as a country” because of the president’s actions and how the U.S. is “turning the tide on the pandemic.”

Biden will speak from Cuyahoga Community College, the planned site of the final campaign rally he was set to make as a presidential candidate in March 2020 before the pandemic shut down the country. It’s meant to symbolize that “after 14 months of darkness, America is emerging into the light with the pandemic in retreat and our economy reopening,” according to a White House official who discussed the speech on the condition of anonymity.

Although the U.S. added a disappointing 266,000 jobs in April, below projections, the White House has stressed an average of 500,000 new jobs per month have been created in the four months since Biden took office, compared to 60,000 per month the three previous months. Unemployment claims are down by one-third, Jean-Pierre said, and wages are on the rise.

Biden will give the credit for at least some of those gains to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan he signed into law in March, but will frame that package as just the “first step.” He will argue the U.S. is at an “economic inflection point,” the official said, and call for “fundamental  investments” in the middle class by Congress: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, overhauling the tax code to favor “work, not wealth,” and passing his combined $4 trillion in infrastructure and families proposals.

President Joe Biden will deliver a speech on the state of the economy during a visit to Cleveland on Thursday. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM, AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans have seized on rising inflation – a jump of 4.2% annually in April, the most in 13 years – to push back on elements of Biden’s COVID-19 rescue plan, approved by only Democrats in Congress, and to fight Biden’s infrastructure and families plans.

In a news conference Wednesday held by Senate Republicans, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., stood in front of poster boards showing price increases for milk, bread and gas and the rising consumer price index. He said $300 enhanced weekly benefits in Biden’s rescue package – increases that several Republican governors opted out of – have incentivized employees not to rejoin the workforce. He related it to his home state of Kansas, which has a large beef processing industry.

“We can’t get people to come back to work,” Marshall said. “So that’s creating an artificial shortage of beef, which is driving up the price of meat at the grocery store.”

Sen. Rick Scott, R- Fla., warned that “excessive spending” from Biden’s administration with his infrastructure and families agendas, on top of the COVID-19 rescue plan, will only make inflation worse.

“Joe Biden’s got to stop this reckless spending,” Scott said. 

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 26: (L-R) U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) hold a news conference about inflation on Capitol Hill on May 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. The group of Republican senators discussed rising consumer prices and the potential effects of inflation on families and businesses recovering from the pandemic. (Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images)

Biden to frame jobs plan as a choice between workers or corporations

The White House has said the increased inflation will not be permanent and argued the families and infrastructure plans will create millions of new jobs, helping reshape the economy to compete with China. 

Biden this month reaffirmed his support for enhanced benefits amid the pandemic. But in a speech he also warned “no one should be allowed to game the system.” He vowed to enforce the law, stressing individuals receiving unemployment offered a suitable job can’t refuse that job and keep their unemployment benefits.

To rally support in Thursday’s speech for his infrastructure plan – trimmed down to $1.7 billion from $2.25 trillion in a counteroffer to Republicans – Biden will try to connect his infrastructure proposal to workers in Cleveland, an industrial Rust Belt city that has seen its manufacturing sector decline in recent decades.

“The president will address head-on the choice before us,” the White House official said, framing it as a decision between “giving breaks to corporations and CEOs” or putting Americans to work.

Senate Republicans are scheduled to release their latest infrastructure counteroffer Thursday morning – expected to total around $1 trillion – after they rejected Biden’s $1.7 trillion counter proposal last Friday.

Biden’s counteroffer would keep corporate tax increases that Republicans have said they won’t support under any circumstances. It would also fund home caregiving for elderly and disabled people, electric vehicle expansion and other “social infrastructure” components that Republicans oppose.

Republicans have said they only support spending on physical infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, ports, airports and broadband internet. The GOP’s counteroffer is expected to be limited to these areas and propose repurposing already approved COVID-19 rescue funds to pay for it.

“This is a process,” Jean-Pierre said, declining to comment on reports of the details before Republicans formally make the new offer. However, she shot down the idea of using money approved for COVID-19 relief. “There are simply not hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID relief funds available to repurpose.”

Contributing: Staff writer Ledyard King. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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