UPDATE 1-In front of aging Louisiana bridge, Biden pushes infrastructure spending

(Adds quotes from Biden, Louisiana official)

May 6 (Reuters) - Democratic President Joe Biden on Thursday visited the Gulf Coast state of Louisiana, which has backed Republicans in U.S. elections for the past two decades, to tout his plans to invest in water and storm projects in cities that have been battered by hurricanes.

Biden was welcomed by the mayor of deeply conservative Lake Charles, a city of 77,000 with a major refinery and petrochemical plants, which was slammed by Hurricanes Laura and Delta last year.

"Mr. President, any members of Congress out there who might be listening: Lake Charles needs help right now and we’re asking for it," said the Republican mayor, Nic Hunter. Any day that goes by without that help is a day that "Washington is failing," he said.

"I know times have been tough here and the damage from the hurricanes has been devastating,” Biden said, standing at an outdoor lectern on the shore of the city's namesake lake. "I believe you need the help and I’m going to try to make sure you get it."

As Biden spoke, bumper-to-bumper traffic crawled behind him along a bridge built in 1952, which the president noted was only supposed to last 50 years.

"That’s a recipe for disaster," he said of the crowded bridge.

Later, the president will stop in the decidedly liberal-leaning city of New Orleans, still scarred https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-housing-neworleans/new-orleans-renters-face-toxic-mix-of-crumbling-homes-weak-rights-eviction-worries-idUSKBN25K1T0 15 years after Hurricane Katrina.

The visits are the latest stop in the White House's "Getting America Back on Track Tour," to promote Biden's $2.25 trillion infrastructure spending plan and a $1.8 billion education and childcare proposal.

Biden's push to spend more federal money on schools, roads, job training and other public works, and tax the wealthiest Americans and companies to pay for it, is popular with voters of both parties. But the plans face stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers.

The White House is betting trips like this will build public support for Biden and his spending proposals, even among Republican voters who backed former President Donald Trump, who continues to hold enormous sway over his party.

Biden plans to tour one of New Orleans' aging facilities that houses water purification equipment and turbines for drainage pumps, which help pump out water during storms.

"Storm-hardening" projects that invest in dams and levies are a potentially popular idea in a coastal state increasingly threatened with extreme weather that scientists blame on climate change.

Biden is asking Congress for $50 billion to improve infrastructure's resiliency nationwide, and additional support to help areas recover from disasters.

Congressional Republicans oppose Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion in infrastructure spending over a decade, saying the higher taxes that would be levied on corporations to fund it would cost jobs and slow the economy.

The U.S. economy has boomed under higher levels of corporate taxation, such as the 1960s and the 1990s.

Some Republicans have offered a far smaller package: $568 billion, focused on roads, bridges, broadband access and drinking water improvements. However, much of that reflects money the federal government is already expected to spend for that infrastructure.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted last week that Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan would not get support from Republican lawmakers.

“I’m going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America,” McConnell said in an event in his home state of Kentucky last month.

In the closely divided Senate, Biden would need every Democratic vote if no Republicans support the bill. Biden said in Lake Charles he was meeting with Republicans in Congress to see "how much they’re willing to go for, what they think are the priorities, and what compromises" they can offer.

"I’m ready to compromise," Biden said. "I’m not ready to have another period where America has another ‘Infrastructure Month’ and doesn’t change a damn thing."

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

05/06/2021 18:56

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