Biden touts infrastructure investments as US midterm vote looms

Amid Republican criticism of US spending, president promotes economic programmes in battleground state of Pennsylvania.

US President Joe Biden has underscored his administration’s efforts to strengthen the country’s ageing infrastructure as he pushes to boost Democrats’ prospects ahead of crucial midterm elections next month.

Standing by a partially rebuilt bridge that collapsed in January in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Biden said on Thursday that United States infrastructure is “finally” improving.

“We should be ranked number one,” Biden said. “So instead of ‘infrastructure week’, which was a punch line for four years under my predecessor, there is ‘infrastructure decade.’”

Former Republican President Donald Trump announced “infrastructure week” in 2017 to promote a plan to fix highways and bridges, but the push was derailed by political turmoil in Washington at that time.

Last year, Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law, which provided money for roads, bridges, mass transit and electric vehicles.

On Thursday, the president called Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge a symbol of the infrastructure rehabilitation boom around the country. Biden said the bridge would be rebuilt before the one-year anniversary of its collapse.

Biden made his comments less than three weeks before midterm elections, which will decide which party controls Congress.

With Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman in attendance, Biden highlighted how the infrastructure spending has benefitted Pennsylvania, a key battleground state where election results may be decisive in the makeup of the next legislature.

“Pennsylvania alone has already received $5.2bn just this year for hundreds of projects,” Biden said, “and I just announced another $2.5bn to fix and upgrade Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges. And there’ll be billions more for other projects.”

In one of the most closely watched Senate races this year, Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, is facing off against Republican Mehmet Oz, a retired physician and TV personality backed by Trump.

Despite low unemployment rates, the economy – hammered by soaring inflation and the prospects of a recession – has been an Achilles’s heel for Democrats.

Recent public opinion polls show that voters who said the economy was their top election issue favoured Republicans.

GOP lawmakers have blamed Biden for surging inflation in the US, saying his administration has spent too much on various social programmes and pledging to cut back if elected.

The Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed on January 28 [File: Gene J Puskar/AP Photo]

Democratic candidates have argued that inflation is up globally due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, but most have shifted their campaigns away from the economy due to the criticism.

Instead, many have focused on other issues that they see as bolstering their chances on November 8, including abortion rights and preserving democracy.

On Thursday, though, Biden kept his focus on dollars and cents, saying the infrastructure funds secured by his administration serve as a major boost for the economy.

“These projects are going to create good paying, mostly union jobs. … I said when I ran, we’re going to build a country from the bottom up and the middle out, not the top down,” Biden said.

“If the middle does well, the wealthy do very well, so those laws [are] about more than rebuilding our infrastructure. It’s about rebuilding the middle class.”

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