HOWELL — President Joe Biden visited Howell, a town 30 miles north of Ann Arbor, Tuesday afternoon to discuss the bipartisan infrastructure bill and his Build Back Better agenda to a small crowd of union members and Michigan lawmakers. 

In his remarks at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 Education Center, Biden went into depth about the packages’ provisions, emphasizing that the bills are a long-term investment in the economy and wouldn’t require lower- and middle-class people to foot the bill.

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework (BIF), was approved 69-30 by the U.S. Senate in early August and is awaiting a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The larger, multi-trillion-dollar Build Back Better agenda is still being negotiated and would need to be passed by both chambers and go through the budget reconciliation process. 

Biden said he hopes the BIF and the reconciliation bill are passed quickly to help the country’s economy stay on track. The reconciliation bill would invest in human infrastructure such as housing, education, food security and child care.

“All those investments (in the BIF) in roads, bridges, high-speed internet, water, everything else, all of it would be less than one-half of 1% of our economy each year,” Biden said. “My Build Back Better plan is going to … cut the cost of child care for most Michigan families by more than half. It’s going to extend the historic middle-class tax cut to the Child Care Tax Credit.”

Biden addressed the belief that working class people might have to pay for the bill, saying the plan in fact cuts taxes for working people.

“The cost of these bills, in terms of adding to the deficit, is zero,” Biden said. “No one making under $400,000 a year will see a penny in their taxes go up. I’m a capitalist. I think you should be able to go out and make a million dollars, or a billion. But just pay your fair share.”

Biden also said the United States needs to stay competitive on the world stage and demonstrate that democracy is a system that can act swiftly to improve the lives of its people. 

“The autocrats of the world believe the world is moving so rapidly that democracies can’t generate consensus quickly enough to bring their people together to get things done,” Biden said. “They’re betting, for the first time, we won’t respond to this inflection point in history, that we’ll fail to rise to the occasion.”

Biden said the United States is starting to fall behind other countries in infrastructure and social programs, and that he hopes Michigan will help the country lead the world in the production of electric vehicles.

“Other countries are speeding up and America is falling behind,” Biden said. “We’ve got to reset the pace again.”

Biden’s visit comes amid negotiations between progressive and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill regarding the size and provisions of the reconciliation package. Biden’s trip to Michigan aims to draw attention to the benefits of the plan since the majority of media coverage surrounding the bills has been related to ongoing negotiations, Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said.

Biden said he hopes to link the BIF and reconciliation package together to ensure both bills are passed in tandem, though moderates are eager to pass the BIF regardless of the status of the reconciliation bill. Biden has also lowered progressive lawmakers’ expectations, saying the reconciliation package could end up closer to $2 trillion, as opposed to the original $3.5 trillion goal.

Before Biden addressed the crowd, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., spoke in support of rebuilding Michigan’s infrastructure. 

“These investments are designed to right the wrongs of a past that was stained by racism, that was littered with inequities that persist to the present,” Gilchrist said. “But now, we have a chance to move forward. The investments we make today will meet the challenges that we have in this particular moment, and prepare our imaginations to run wild into the future.”

“Together, we can invest in places like Howell, Michigan, where we’re standing today, and build vibrant, welcoming communities where working people of all races and backgrounds can get the skills they need, so they can get into a good paying job, take care of their families, and build a better future for everyone,” Whitmer said. 

The city of Howell has a past stained by racism and Ku Klux Klan activity. The leader of the KKK in the 1970s, Robert Miles, lived on a farm close to Howell. Though Howell is often associated with the KKK, residents have taken steps in recent years to distance themselves from that reputation through hosting Black Lives Matter marches and other events. Yet progress has been slow, according to some community members, and the town is still overwhelmingly white. 

When Biden landed at the Capital Region International Airport, he was greeted by Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and rode with Slotkin in his motorcade to Howell. Before speaking, he toured the union training facility.

Slotkin, a moderate Democrat and former CIA analyst, was first elected in 2018 by slim margins and will be up for reelection in 2022. Though Slotkin is in favor of passing the BIF immediately, she is not yet a guaranteed “yes” on the larger reconciliation bill.

“I had an opportunity to give my frank feedback to the president on what is important for me to see in that (reconciliation) bill, and if those things are in the bill, and they’re gonna be transformative and targeted, he can earn my support,” Slotkin said to press after the event. “But if it’s … not transformative on any one thing, not targeted and not paid for? Well, then we’re gonna have to keep talking.”

Representing the polarized eighth district that encompasses Ingham, Livingston and North Oakland counties, Slotkin stressed that improving infrastructure should not be a divisive issue. 

“The infrastructure issues that Michiganders are facing unite us,” Slotkin said. “There is no such thing as infrastructure problems in blue areas or red areas — we all need safe roads to drive on, and we have more than 7,300 miles of highway in poor condition.”

In statements Monday and Tuesday, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., both reiterated their support for the BIF and reconciliation bills.

Protests outside the event

Outside Biden’s event, several hundred protesters gathered for a “Stop the Spending Rally,” organized by the Livingston County Republican Party and Moms for Liberty, a nationwide organization of parents who “oppose government overreach.” Among the crowd was a smaller group of Biden supporters. 

Protesters waved flags and held signs with messages such as “Democrats hate our country,” and “vaccines kill.” Biden supporters held signs with messages like “woman engineer ready to Build Back Better” and “climate action now.”

A poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber in early September indicated that Biden’s job approval has dropped 32.3% among moderate Democrats and 10.9% among independents in Michigan since May. It also found that 57.7% of Michiganders felt the economy was on the wrong track, though that view is mostly held by Republicans and Independents.

Meghan Reckling, chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, told The Daily in a Tuesday email that she hoped that the rally would push Slotkin to reconsider her votes on the packages.

“I think it’s great that the President has decided to leave the Washington bubble to see what real Americans think about his out-of-control spending plan,” Reckling said. “I would like to see President Biden not indebt our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars in wasteful spending.”

Rick Hagenbach, a Republican at the rally, said he was protesting out of concern about excess spending.

“I think we need infrastructure. We don’t need reconciliation,” Hagenbach said. “We don’t need to give money to people just to stay home. We don’t need to support other parents’ kids with child care credits.”

Al Strasser, a Biden supporter who was protesting, emphasized the need to rebuild Michigan’s infrastructure and said that he feels modern-day politics lack positive communication.

“I think (the reconciliation bill) needs to be passed. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the social agenda in the bill, but I agree with it overall,” Strasser said. “This country used to be civil to each other, no matter what the differences, and I wish we could get that back.”

Barbara Matyas, a pro-Biden protester, said that she felt Biden genuinely cares about improving the lives of everyday Americans. 

“I’m real glad he did (visit Howell) … it’s traditionally a Republican town, so maybe he’ll change a few minds,” Matyas said.

First Lady Jill Biden visited Oakland Community College in Royal Oak, Mich., in late September to tout the President’s Build Back Better agenda and its higher education provisions.

Biden was last in Michigan to visit Traverse City on July 3. He also gave remarks and toured the Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in May.  

“The only thing we’ve been missing is the will from Washington to finally build an economy around you — an economy that gives you and your family a fighting chance to get ahead, gives our country a fighting chance to compete with the rest of the world,” Biden said Tuesday. “We can’t get here thinking small. We have to think big.”

Daily Staff Reporter Dominick Sokotoff can be reached at