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Biden pitches unfinished economic agenda in personal hometown remarks

<i>Susan Walsh/AP</i><br/>President Joe Biden made a pitch for his unfinished economic agenda as negotiations heat up in Congress
Susan Walsh/AP
President Joe Biden made a pitch for his unfinished economic agenda as negotiations heat up in Congress

By Betsy Klein, CNN

President Joe Biden made a pitch for his unfinished economic agenda as negotiations heat up in Congress, broadly touting its provisions as Democrats pare back the sweeping legislation to expand the social safety net in efforts to get it passed.

The remarks began in a personal tone, with Biden describing his father’s work in Scranton and recounting — as he has in the past — when his father told him he’d lost his job. Biden related that experience to the plight of working-class American families as he promoted his agenda.

“Scranton isn’t my home because of the memories it gave me; it’s my home because of the values it gave me,” the President said at the Electric City Trolley Museum, going on to press the importance of investing in roads and bridges — but also people.

He called both the economic agenda and bipartisan infrastructure plan “critical” pieces of legislation.

“This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment we introduced it — but I think we’re going to surprise them,” Biden said as Democrats negotiate on key sticking points.

Biden on Tuesday laid out the details of a significantly scaled back — and yet still sweeping in scale — roughly $1.9 trillion social spending package in a private meeting with nine progressive House Democrats. It was a signal that discussions are moving toward an end, though there is still significant work to be done and the critical holdouts — Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — still have not signed onto the plan, officials say.

The President used Wednesday’s trip as part of the public sales pitch for the agenda, which will continue Thursday at a CNN town hall in Baltimore.

Biden and Democratic leaders over the last few days have engineered a clear pivot toward a resolution through a series of behind-the-scenes meetings and calls. The next several days will be spent in the effort to agree to a framework on the multi-trillion economic and climate package by week’s end.

Biden described this moment as a time when the US must decide between “competitiveness versus complacency” and a time of “expanding opportunity.”

Biden outlined pieces of his economic agenda, citing its early childhood education provisions, two years of preschool for every American child and post-high school provisions including increasing Pell Grants. He did not, however, reference the two years of free community college in the initial package, which CNN has reported has been pared back amid ongoing negotiations.

Citing the high cost of childcare and his own experience caring for young children as a widowed parent, Biden said the legislation “will cut the cost of childcare for most Pennsylvania families in half.”

He also touted the child tax credit as “a flat-out tax cut for ordinary people,” which comes as its timeline has been scaled back. While he didn’t get into specifics of what it would look like in the final package, he staunchly defended the program saying he makes no apologies for a program he described as a tax cut for middle class families.

He also touted boosts to Medicaid for home care for seniors, describing his own experience his mother’s care.

The President also reiterated his promise that no one making under $400,000 per year will see a tax increase, which comes as Democrats hash out mechanisms to pay for the human infrastructure package.

Biden also discussed the bipartisan bill, arguing that it will bring “good union jobs” with good wages, improve water quality, improve the health and well-being of children, build a modern energy grid and ensure high-speed internet.

Biden cited specific statistics on wildfires in the Western United States as he broadly described the bipartisan bill’s clean energy and climate provisions. And ahead of a major global climate conference later this month, Biden said both bills will help the US “meet the moment on the climate crisis.” He also touted electric vehicle charging stations in the bipartisan bill.

“Coal built this town — this part of the country. But we gotta provide other avenues for people to make the same kind of living they used to be able to make,” Biden said, calling for an “investment in our resilience.”

He described both bills as a matter of “dignity” and “pride” and said they will give the US the position “to compete in the long haul.”

As he began his remarks, Biden also pointed to his personal history in his hometown of Scranton.

“I am the most railroad guy you’re ever going to meet,” Biden said in front of the trolley museum, touting more than 2 million Amtrak miles in his history.

“It’s good to be home,” Biden said as he took the stage, pointing out his “relatives in the front row.” He riffed for a significant amount of time about his personal connections with his family and the city, which he called a “place that climbs into your heart and never leaves you.”

“You can take the boy out of Scranton, but you’ll never take Scranton out of the boy,” the President, for whom a local expressway is newly named, said.

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