Remarks on Infrastructure and Jobs Legislation in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Well, Mr. Mayor, Governor, thank you. It's good to be back in Lake Charles. I've been here a number of times over the years as Senator and then as Vice President.
The first time I came down here—with a guy named Russell Long, who I served with—I was 29—please, sit down, everybody. I was 29 years old when I got elected, and I went to see Russell Long. And he said, "Son"—I'd made my stops to all the senior Senators, which was what you do in those days—and I—he said: "Son, sit down. Sit down." And he pounded on his desk.
And I sat down, and he said—he said, "How much money did you spend on your campaign?" And I said, "Well, sir"—and this is going to shock you. I said, "About"—I said: "A little over $285,000, but then I had to borrow some money and—to get through it. And I just won, barely, by less than a half a percentage point."
And he said, "Well"—he said, "It's a good thing you won." [Laughter] And I said, "How is that?" He said, "Well"—he said, "You've got yourself a $38,000 deficit." [Laughter] And I said, "Yes, sir." And he said: "Well, if you hadn't won, you'd just have a plain old deficit. Now you can have a deficit party." [Laughter] God, I miss—he was amazing. An amazing guy.
And both of you are amazing. Mr. Mayor, you've got a great city. And as I said, I've been here—I've been here more than once, and it's good to be back. And I—it's hard to believe that—that you got hit as badly as you have within the timeframe you have. And I used to spend some time with Randy; he got hit a little bit, but not like you did—not like you have. And, Gov, you know, we have to build back. We have to build back better.
One of the things that—that I'm proud of is, in the first 100 days that I became President, we have created more jobs in that period of time than any administration in history. But the way I look at that, that's just the down payment getting us back with the American Recovery Act [Rescue Plan].* Just getting us back and getting people—a lot of that had to do with getting people vaccinated, getting 600 million doses of the vaccine, and getting people in a position where it was available.
But now it's about rebuilding America, rebuilding in a way that it has resilience. And the folks who are going to rebuild it are those folks right over there: unions. They're going to rebuild it in a way that we're going to provide good jobs.
Well, look, it's—as I said, it's good to be back, Governor Edwards and Mayor Hunter. And I also want to thank President Reine—the union president of AFL-CIO—head of the—there you are. I couldn't find you.
And, folks, there's a—when it comes to bridges and roads and the like, I've never seen a Republican or a Democrat road. I just see roads.
And, Mayor—I mean, you're a Republican. You wrote a newspaper article suggesting that we—along with the Governor—the Democratic mayor of Shreveport, Mayor Perkins—as to why we need the American Jobs Plan and—which is what I'm here to talk about today: a once-in-a-generation investment in American—America itself—to create jobs, to modernize our bridges, our roads, our highways, our ports, our airports, our water pipes, our water projects, high-speed internet, transmission lines, and sustainable housing—sustainable housing—jobs rebuilding the foundations of a strong, fair, and resilient—resilient—competitive economy.
You know, I know the times have been tough here. And the damage of the hurricanes has been devastating. The Governor has already spoken to me; we're talking with OMB and with our folks in—Republican and Democrats in the Congress, because I believe you need the help. I believe you need the help. We're going to try to make sure you get it.
But the people of Louisiana always have picked themselves up, just like America always picks itself up. There's no quit in America. There's no quit in Louisiana, as I've observed.
But that doesn't mean the Federal Government—because it was local, doesn't mean it shouldn't help. I promise you, we're going to help you build back better than ever and more resilient. And build back in a way that all we build is better able to withstand storms and—that are becoming more severe and more frequent than ever.
I think we have to—you might have noticed I promised I would have a—I would have a climate forum for the world in Washington within 100 days. Well, 40 Heads of State showed up, from the largest countries in the world to some of the smallest. We can't deny it: There is a real change in the weather. And if we go 1.5 degrees warmer, we're going to be in real trouble, at the point of no return.
Matter of fact, a lot of what we're going to have to build back now, in terms of infrastructure, we've got to build back to a different standard, not to what it was. It's got to be better because the climate has changed enough now that it's still going to rise 2 feet when the—when it rains. It's still going to—we've got to build for what is needed now. And I promise you, we're going to do that. And we're better prepared—so we're better prepared to withstand storms and—becoming more severe and more frequent.
We're standing here in the shadow of the I-10 bridge, which I've gone over several times myself in the past. And it's a perfect example of how we've neglected, as a nation, to invest in the future of our economy and the future of our people.
You know, when the bridge was built in 1952, it was built to—there was nothing there—it was built to make sure that we, in fact, are able to—it was going to last for 50 years; that was 20 years ago. It was built for 50 years.
The I-10 bridge was built to handle a daily traffic load of 37,000 crossings. Well—but, today, every day, more than 80,000—more than 80,000 cars and trucks cross over that bridge. And it doesn't have the modern safety features that bridges need to have now.
You know, six lanes of the interstate narrow into four lanes of a bridge. That's a recipe for disaster. And that's what—I'm sure you don't need to tell the drivers around Lake Charles that it means traffic bottlenecks and delays, and that they'll—at the last inspection, this bridge was characterized as in "poor" condition. And after decades of politicians studying it and talking about it, Governor Edwards is the one finally moving forward with a project to actually replace the bridge: one with six lanes, new interchanges, that's safer and reduces congestion.
And it shouldn't be as hard—it shouldn't be this hard to take so—or take so long to fix a bridge that's this important. It makes no sense. But the truth is, across the country, we have failed—we have failed—to properly invest in infrastructure for a half a century. The last 4 years, how many times did you say, "This is going to be Infrastructure Week"? Well, I got so tired of hearing "Infrastructure Week" and nothing—nothing happened. Nothing has happened.
And across America, there are more than 45—hear me now—45,000 bridges that are structurally deficient. Structurally deficient. Every day, Americans cross these bridges 178 million times. And they are structurally deficient.
We've seen what happens when they deteriorate. Remember a few years ago? Two counties over the—in Mississippi had to shut down more than 60 bridges that were in poor condition. Sixty bridges. People in those communities were rerouted from 40 to 50 mile of detours with half-hour to hour delays.
One of the areas, when I was doing this with our last major plan that—when Barack was President—was in Pennsylvania. There was a large shopping center, a school, and the rest, and it was just across a creek, as we say up in that—that way.
And the bridge across it was deficient. But there was a fire station just within eyesight—from here to the other side—the parking lot. But guess what? When there was a burn, when there was a fire, it took them—they had to go up 9 miles to find a bridge, come back, and by that time, a hell of a lot of damage was done. Well, there are bridges all over America—big and small—like that.
A few years ago, as I said, we found ourselves in a position where it's not just more inconvenient, like in the situation in Mississippi, it is also a matter of life and death: keeping firefighters, paramedics from getting people help they need; cutting off hurricane evacuation routes.
In addition, more than 1 in 5 miles of our highways in the United States of America—major roads in America—are in poor condition—1 in 5 miles. That's more than a safety hazard. That is a drain on our economy.
The typical American pays—I know this is going to sound wonky, but it's real, and it affects ordinary Americans' lives, like the neighborhoods I come from—the typical American pays a hidden tax of more than $1,000 a year in the time it wastes and the fuel wasted due to traffic congestion because of the nature of our infrastructure.
We rank eighth in the world in terms of our infrastructure. We used to be the leader in the world. All told, these delays cost our country—according to economists—an estimated $160 billion a year in waste: extra fuel, extra time, and the like.
And that's due to the congestion. And folks in Louisiana know, there are much greater threats than just congestion. When the road or the bridge is washed out, or when it can't stand up to a hurricane, people can't get to their jobs, can't get to their schools. Families can't get to hospitals safely.
This is about creating jobs and also saving lives. You know, my mother used to have an expression, Gov, she'd say, "Out of everything bad, Joey, something good will come if you look hard enough for it." Well, one of the things that this crisis, in terms of the health crisis of COVID, has shown us is that we have to build back better in a whole series of ways.
It's about building a strong foundation for the American people. So when I think about the threats of hurricanes and global warming and—then the poor condition of our economy as it relates particularly to infrastructure, I think of one thing: I think of jobs. Jobs. Jobs.
Everything we're—gone through is now the, sort of—the blinders have been taken off the American people. They know how bad of shape things are in. But it creates—if we move—all the economists, including the liberal as well as conservative think tanks, point out what we'll create when we pass this Jobs Plan—we'll create up to 16 million good-paying jobs. Not $8 an hour or $12 an hour, not $15 an hour—prevailing wage jobs. Wages you can raise a family on. You have a—my dad would say just a little bit of "breathing room" after everything is paid.
And so, you know, your—this State is working to rebuild the I-10 bridge. But we can put America to work in every State, fixing roads and bridges that are in desperate need of repair.
My plan is a one-time, $115 billion investment above and beyond business as usual—what we usually do, everything in the Highway Trust Fund—this is above what we have spent in the past, so we can modernize bridges and roads and highways that need it most, putting people to work in good-paying jobs.
Now, I know a lot of you watching at home are thinking that—well, you know, if these jobs are for you. Well, you know, all you folks who feel left out as the economy is moving so rapidly, everything is changing, and you're wondering whether the—what you did before—is it going to be available to be done in the future? Well, let me tell you something: If you feel left out and forgotten in a rapidly changing economy, let me speak directly to you.
Nearly 90 percent of all the infrastructure jobs that this is going to create won't require a college degree. Seventy-five percent of them won't even require an associate's degree. These are jobs that can't be outsourced. Can't be outsourced. They just require something we've got in good supply here in Louisiana: hard work, grit, and sweat. Like the workers that are here today, and like all of the people you know and grew up with.
The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America. A blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America, to supercharge our economy so we can move goods, get to work, become more competitive around the world. You know, it will shorten our commutes to give us back the lost time with our families, to make our commutes safer, save lives. All told, the American Jobs Plan is going to modernize 20,000 miles of highways and roads.
It will fix the Nation's 10 most economically significant bridges that require replacement—they're just not safe anymore, which this bridge could be one of them—and repairs 10,000 bridges that desperately need to be upgraded. Bridges that get kids to school, people to market.
And you know, when you build better roads or extend the train line over to the next town or install reliable, high-speed internet, it sparks new life and investment in communities. It gives people hope. Business picks up at the local convenience store, at the seafood market, at the hardware store where center—centers of people, locus in—and their jobs and their economies.
Better jobs start coming to town. We haven't seen that in a long time. Suddenly, young people don't have to make the decision whether they have to leave to have a better opportunity. They stay where they are.
That's what infrastructure does. It has a rippling effect. And when it makes all—when we make all these investments, we are going to make sure of one thing: that we buy American. Now, I know I'm being accused, when I say I'm only going to buy American as President, that somehow I'm going to violate trade agreements. No.
Since the 1930s, you're allowed to—a President could just decide to buy only American. It's not—it's just—I'm going to get to spend somewhere in the order of $600 billion this year—everything from building an aircraft carrier, new decks, and all. And I guarantee you one thing, and I've said it in place: Every single thing—from the deck of an aircraft carrier, to a railing in a new building—is going to be built by an American company, American workers, American supply chain so that we invest American tax dollars in American workers. And that's what we're going to do. I promise you.
Because right now that law has existed, but you're allowed to have exceptions. So what do you do? The last Presidents have come along and said, "Well, we have a little trouble making sure we can find somebody who is able to put the railings in this new building and the stairwells." Well, guess what? There's a whole hell of a lot of Americans who make that. So we're going to have a spot—you just call the White House. We'll find you any company that makes those railings, for example—as one concrete example—rather than going abroad to purchase those. It's going to create jobs and is going to generate economic growth.
And look, this is all about making a choice: a choice between giving tax breaks to the superwealthy and to corporations, and investing in working families, who are going to build the country. I look at this as—what I'm talking about—as giving, essentially, tax breaks to hard-working middle class and working people who built this country.
In my view, it's an easy choice: invest in workers wearing hard hats and doing the hard work of rebuilding the country and putting line workers—for example, to put line workers and electricians to work laying thousands of miles of transmission lines to build a modern energy grid; to put engineers and construction workers to work building modern roads and bridges, weatherizing homes and buildings, and setting new standards where they have to be built with better material and that have to be built to withstand heavy winds and hurricanes and the like and to withstand the impact of the changing weather; to put plumbers and pipefitters to work replacing a hundred percent of the Nation's lead pipes and service lines that are delivering poisoned water to our kids in the—there are over 400,000—400,000 schools in America that have lead pipes leading—I mean, 400,000—yes, that's right—400,000 have lead pipes going to the schools right now. And you have over 10 million homes where their water source is fed by lead pipes that were laid years and years ago.
We're going to rip it all up—all up—and make it safe all across America. And it's going to provide millions of jobs—thousands of jobs. And it's going to provide much more security. It's going to put plumbers and pipefitters to work replacing this so every child in America can turn on a faucet and not worry about drinking polluted water.
I'm going to be visiting a water plant in New Orleans today to get a closer look at what's needed to modernize the city's water system because it needs modernization, and they need it repaired.
Look, these are the highest value investments you can make as a nation, and they last the longest. Economists—left, right, and center—agree that these are the investments we need to make to generate historic economic growth that's maintained—maintained—not just bringing jobs back, but creating new jobs. And together, with the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan is going to help the economy create, as I said, estimated over 16 million good-paying jobs.
And, folks, we can't afford to not do it. We can't afford to not spend the time and effort and money.
Now, let me explain how we pay for this, because I'm not a deficit spender. Because, you know, we had a tax cut the other team put in back in nineteen—in 2017, and it created a $2 trillion deficit, with the vast majority of that going to the top 1—top one-tenth of 1 percent of the wage earners.
I don't want to punish anybody. You're entitled to be a millionaire or a billionaire, just pay your fair share. Just pay—for example, if we just were to make sure that we had the tax rate for the top rate in America for income tax—what it was in the Bush administration—it would go from 36 to 39.6 percent.
Well, guess what? That would raise a minimum of $10 billion a year. No one is hurt. Someone making that money is still going to have two homes or a jet plane—or these are mostly millionaires; they're not going to be hurting a little bit. But we're going to be able to put tens of thousands of kids in preschool and in free community college.
What's going to help America more? Increase the educational standard of all Americans so they have 14 years of school, from 2 years of—3- and 5-year-olds—3, 4, and 5 years old—we show that that happens if they get—not go to daycare, they go to school. No matter what the background or the home they come from, they catch up. Fifty-eight percent of them will go on to go to college; we know that now.
We also know that if you give 2 years—2 years—of free community college—you're in a situation where—you're in a position that you're going to have—in your State and every other State in America, you'll allow to go in the last 2 years—all of those credits are available to your State universities, and you can get a 4-year degree for half the cost. And/or you get the 2-year degree, and you're able to do what you needed it to do. It's estimated it will increase the average income by over 20 percent for someone in America for the rest of their lives.
So, folks, you know, the fact is that I'm—as I was saying, I'm not looking to punish anyone. You know, I come from the corporate State of the world, Delaware. More corporations are incorporated in the State of Delaware than every other State in the union combined.
But guess what? You know, I'm sick and tired of corporate America not paying their fair share. Their taxes used to be 38 percent—36 percent. We all thought that was too high, even in our administration, and we wanted to reduce it to 28 percent, make it more competitive. Some thought 24 [percent].* But it got reduced to 21 percent. And do you know what the result is? Of the largest corporations in America, 50 don't pay a penny in tax. They made $40 billion and don't pay a penny in tax.
If you're a construction worker and your wife is a schoolteacher, you're paying at a higher tax rate than corporate America is paying. Not a joke. Not a joke. I don't want to punish them.
And by the way, they used to do a lot more research and development. Major corporations, now, because we've changed the law—in fact, it used to be that a corporate CEO got paid 36 times as much as the average employee in their corporation in the Fortune 500; now, it's 456 times. My mother would say, "Who died and left them boss?"
Well, 56 percent of all—53 percent of all of the money they made—excuse me—of a trillion dollars over 10 years—what did it do according to a major study? It went to buying back their stock. Now, why are you buying back the stock? Because CEOs now get paid in stock purchases—stock options. It used to be, they got paid in direct salary. And they get paid in stock options. So, if you have 10 shares of stock, you sell 5, the 5 left are worth more. You get paid in stock, you get—it's better.
The remaining 37 percent goes to dividends, which makes sense. But it leaves 9 percent—9 percent for everything, according to the study out of the University of Massachusetts—everything from salaries, employment, research, and development—9 percent.
So, folks, you know, we used to invest in research and development in this country in about 2.4 percent of all that we did, have—making us the leading country in the world in change and research and development. Well, we now do 0.7. The Chinese are eating our lunch. They're eating our lunch, economically. They're investing hundreds of billions of dollars in research and development.
That's why, right now, if it keeps their way, they're going to own the electric car market in the world. They're going to own a whole range—we've got to compete. We've got to compete. And it doesn't cost anybody anything and deprive anybody of anything they have earned or deserve.
As I said, we're now at a place where, when they used to pay 35 percent, it's now 21. The way I can pay for this is, the $40 billion, for example, just making sure the largest companies don't pay zero. And reducing the tax cut to between 25 and 28, it's a couple hundred billion dollars. We can pay for these things.
I'm not talking about deficit spending. I'm talking about paying for it. And I won't go—and I'm realizing getting too wonky, sharing and giving you too much detail. But the point is, what I'm proposing is badly needed and able to be paid for and still grow—trickle down ain't working very well, man. We've got to build from the bottom and—up and the middle out. That's how we build America. That's how we built it so well back in the sixties.
And so, folks, look, a middle class family, as I said, and a construction worker with a kid—with two kids is paying more in Federal taxes than a multimillion-dollar—billion-dollar corporation that's making billions of dollars, in terms of the rate at which they pay.
And look, here we go. You know, it's still—the fact is that the plans that I put forward meets the middle class and raises corporate rate. It also lowers it where—lower than any point that it was since World War II. And it's going to generate $90 billion each year, hundreds of thousands of jobs. We're going to put a lot of folks to work.
And by the way, how many of you are veterans or know—or have a brother, a sister, a mother, father who is a veteran? Well, here in Lake Charles, you've got a new veterans clinic. It was built a few years ago, beginning when Barack and I were in office. But most VA hospitals, for example, are 50 years old or older. Ask your buddies. Ask your buddies.
When they—we have more people, more veterans, and more active military committing suicide every week than are killed in all our wars. Why? Pick up a phone. We have more people coming back with posttraumatic stress than anything else.
I carry in my pocket my schedule. On the back of my schedule I have updates—U.S. troop updates: how many people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not "generally over 6,000"—six thousand, as of this morning, nine hundred and twenty-seven, because every single, solitary one of those fallen angels left an entire community behind. Wounded: 53,196—not "roughly 53,000."
Well, guess what? Ask your people—ask around in your State and any other State. You've got a husband, a wife calling, saying she's having posttraumatic stress, and she's stressed—"I need to get there—in there right away." "Well, we can't see you for 3 weeks. We don't have enough docs." And the buildings are 15 years old—50 years old. We have a sacred obligation to invest in that infrastructure. Better docs—not "better docs," more docs; more psychiatric nurses in order to take care of these things.
Look, folks, the bottom line here is—and I'm going on too long—the American Jobs Plan puts people to work upgrading VA hospitals and put—for our veterans and our servicemembers and military families.
And let me ask you: What's better for America—a tax cut that makes corporations richer and CEOs richer, or investments that are going to make our country stronger, more competitive, and lift up the standard of living for everybody?
And by the way, this is not punishing anybody. All those folks are still going to have two homes and three homes and their jets, and it won't matter. Not going to change their standard of living one little bit.
Not surprisingly, critics say they're worried that I'm going to stunt economic growth by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. There's just one problem with their argument: the facts.
Experts have looked at it. The last time taxes were around the rates I'm proposing was in the nineties, and the economy boomed. America created 20 million new jobs in 8 years when these were the tax rates. And the facts are, the American economy has had a record job creation and growth under the same kind of plan I'm proposing. And here's why: Our economy has always done best when everyone pays their fair share.
Again, I'm not looking to punish anybody. I'm looking to rebuild America as a world leader. I'm going to look to make sure we have the best and most significant infrastructure in the world. It's time to grow this economy from the bottom up and the middle out.
Let me close with this: Infrastructure has historically been a bipartisan undertaking. There's no reason it shouldn't be that way again, as the mayor is evidence of, and others are. It's about coming together to create jobs to make a more competitive world.
What's the first thing that anybody asks you when they want to put a new facility here in your city? "How close is the interstate? And what—how—you know, what's the access to the lake? What's going—I mean, what's the water supply?" They want to know you have the best infrastructure. Companies and corporations go where they can get their product made the quickest and get it to market the fastest.
And we're doing everything we can to win the competition for the 21st century. I'm willing to hear ideas from both sides. I'm meeting with my Republican friends up in the Congress to see, number one, how much they're willing to go for, what they think are the priorities, and what compromises we—I'm ready to compromise.
What I'm not ready to do: I'm not ready to do nothing. I'm not ready to have another period where America has another "Infrastructure Month" and doesn't change a damn thing.
America is more competitive, better, and more capable than any nation in the world. There's not a damn thing we cannot do when we do it together. It's about time we start working together, like mayors and local officials do, like Governors do.
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?" And we can make it better. We can make it better. It shouldn't be controversial.
So let me conclude by saying: God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 1:07 p.m. at the Lake Charles seawall. In his remarks, he referred to former Mayor Randy Roach of Lake Charles, LA; Louis Reine, president Louisiana AFL-CIO; and former President Barack Obama.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Infrastructure and Jobs Legislation in Lake Charles, Louisiana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/349819