Joe Biden repeats it all over the place: he wants to “think big”.
The US president is launching the second offensive of his term this week: a massive infrastructure investment project accompanied by tax increases that remain to be defined but are already making his political opponents scream.
Proof of the importance he attaches to this issue, which could be a marker of his presidency, he will speak Wednesday from Pittsburgh, in the northeast, the city where he launched his campaign two years ago.
And a sign of a presidency that he wants to be bold and reformist, the one that Donald Trump had tried to caricature as “Sleepy Joe” (Joe asleep) without ideas or guidelines should put forward figures that could, once again, give dizzy.
After having passed by Congress a rescue plan centered on the Covid-19 pandemic of nearly 2,000 billion dollars, he could this time praise the merits of an envelope of 3,000, even 4,000 billion.
Objective displayed? “Rebuild our economy and create better paid jobs for American workers”, in the words of its spokesperson Jen Psaki.
The project revolves around a promise repeated a thousand times in the campaign: “Build Back Better”, aiming to modernize facilities, meet the challenge of competitiveness in the face of China, but also to place climate issues at the heart of American policy.
The White House has so far remained miserly in detail, fueling speculation on the projects and the sums envisaged but also on the political strategy.
The only certainty: the Pittsburgh speech will only be the starting point of a bitter battle in Congress with a very uncertain outcome. Its majority is indeed narrow there, and the negotiations promise to be formidable.
The coming months will test the qualities of negotiator and connoisseur of the workings of Washington of this “old lion” of politics, “as Barack Obama put it.
Buttigieg on the front line
Restore or build roads, bridges, railways, ports and airports? The idea is of course meaningful to the general public, especially since many infrastructures in the United States date from the 1950s and their dilapidation is not up for debate.
But beyond the famous ritornello “this is a subject on which Democrats and Republicans can agree”, building a political consensus is no easy task.
Joe Biden’s two predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, also had supporting slogans and made great promises on this subject. They have remained a dead letter.
The question keeps coming back: how to finance them?
Former rival of Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries, Pete Buttigieg, now Minister of Transport, who will be on the front line on this issue, ensures that everything will be different this time, that the stars are aligned.
“I think we have an extraordinary opportunity to have the support of both parties to think big and be daring on infrastructure,” insists the young minister.
“Americans don’t need to be explained to them that we need to act on infrastructure and the reality is that you cannot separate the climate dimension” from this challenge.
If Pete Buttigieg’s enthusiasm and political capital are real, the task will be daunting.
For DJ Gribbin, expert at the Brookings Institution and former Donald Trump adviser on infrastructure, Joe Biden would do well to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors.
The first step is to define with precision the role of the federal government, which is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, not the owner of these infrastructures.
But it is also a matter of being wary of the risk of a project that is too “technical” and of always keeping in mind the appetite of the Americans, and of their elected representatives, for “tangible” projects: what a reduction in my working time. transport? Will the potholes on the roads be eliminated?
If he doesn’t change his approach, Joe Biden will also run into Congress, writes DJ Gribbin in a blog post. And will fail.
“And the tradition of future presidential candidates unsuccessfully promising trillions of dollars for our infrastructure will continue.”