Biden Says China Will ‘Eat Our Lunch’ on Infrastructure

Date: Friday, February 12, 2021
Source: Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—President Biden warned that China is making advancements in transportation that give it an advantage over the U.S., as he made a pitch for Congress to pass an economic recovery package that includes infrastructure improvements.

“If we don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch. They have major, major new initiatives on rail,” Mr. Biden said, adding that China is also making rapid advances on electric-vehicle technology.

The president spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday night in a call that Mr. Biden said lasted two hours. The two leaders, speaking for the first time since Mr. Biden took office, discussed a range of issues, including human rights, trade and security, according to the White House.

In May 2019 remarks, Mr. Biden appeared to dismiss the notion that China posed a major competitive threat to the U.S.

“China is going to eat our lunch? C’mon man,” he said in Iowa, asserting that the country was facing internal problems on a scale much larger than those in the U.S. Mr. Biden added, “They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”

Then-President Donald Trump criticized Mr. Biden for the comments at the time, calling them naive.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Biden recognizes the competitive threat China poses.

“I think the president’s view is that we’re in a competition with China and he’s clear-eyed about the depth of that challenge,” she said.

Mr. Biden and his senior aides are already looking ahead to a second legislative package focused on the economic recovery that they hope Congress will pass in the coming months. At the center of that package, according to White House officials, will be an infrastructure measure.

The president on Thursday gathered four senators to discuss infrastructure in the Oval Office: Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D., Del.); Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D., Md.); Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee; and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.).

“There’s a lot we have to do and I could think of no better people to start off with to try to see if we can come up with some kind of generic consensus about how to begin,” Mr. Biden said.

Ms. Psaki declined to say how much Mr. Biden hopes to spend on an infrastructure package.

White House officials said Mr. Biden is planning to officially roll out his economic recovery plan in the coming weeks. The plan will focus on job creation, infrastructure, broadband and other issues.

Mr. Biden is planning to meet with U.S. governors and mayors at the White House on Friday to discuss infrastructure and the president’s economic recovery plan, the White House said.

It is the second component of a two-part response to the pandemic. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters Thursday that she expects the nine House committees currently shaping the first part to wrap up their work this week. The House Budget Committee will then sew together the components next week and the full House is expected to pass the package before the end of the month, she said.

Mrs. Pelosi said she expected Mr. Biden would be able to sign the bill into law before enhanced unemployment benefits expire in mid-March.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Biden proposed spending $2 trillion over four years to improve infrastructure, create jobs in the renewable energy sector and tackle climate change.

Among his proposals: creating 1 million new jobs in the U.S. auto industry, in part through electric-vehicle development; providing federal incentives to develop zero-emissions public transit in cities; making buildings and homes more energy efficient; and using federal grants and loans to improve the U.S. rail system.

Mr. Carper said his committee is crafting a bill to reauthorize surface transportation programs that will include many of Mr. Biden’s priorities.

“Our current authorization extension expires in September: There is no time to waste,” he said after Thursday’s meeting. “Now, I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in the House and in the Senate to get this done.”

The White House said Mr. Biden and other participants in the meeting “reiterated their commitment to making sure no workers are left behind, underscoring how the administration will bring construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades jobs—with the choice to join a union—directly to the communities that are too often left behind.”

Presidents in their first year traditionally deliver an address to a joint session of Congress in lieu of a State of the Union address, often in late February, to lay out their agendas. Mrs. Pelosi said Democratic leaders wouldn’t discuss Mr. Biden’s joint address before Congress until after the coronavirus aid package passes the chamber.


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