In an Oval Office meeting with four U.S. senators on Thursday, President Biden stressed the need for a new infrastructure plan — warning China will “eat our lunch” without it.
Biden told reporters he had a “good conversation” with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday evening that lasted two hours.
“They’re investing billions of dollars in dealing with a whole range of issues that deal with transportation, the environment and a whole range of other things,” said Biden. “So we just have to step up.”
In an official readout of the call, the White House said the two leaders also spoke about “Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.) — the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — were in the Oval Office meeting on Thursday, with the committee’s former chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) and Small Business Committee Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.).
Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also took part. The president said he hoped the group could come to a “generic consensus about how to begin.”
“We’re going to see what we can put together. There’s a number of things that are out there the American people are looking at us to step up,” said Biden. “I really, honest to God, never have thought of infrastructure being a partisan issue.”
Inhofe told reporters the meeting was “very good,” but also noted the cost of infrastructure plans.
“I just don’t want them to try and put their agenda — on something else — just to try and hold it hostage,” said Inhofe.
Lawmakers are trying to rush Biden’s $1.9 trillion “rescue plan” through Congress before enhanced unemployment benefits expire in mid-March. Biden plans to also unveil a separate “recovery plan” that will focus on creating jobs through investment in infrastructure and clean technology.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is urging Congress and the Biden administration to act quickly on infrastructure. Ed Mortimer, vice president of Transportation and Infrastructure at the Chamber, said if the U.S. doesn’t invest now, it will have to pay more later.
“Interest rates are low. We're at an opportunity now where our economy needs that jumpstart — and we really believe that infrastructure investment — and again not just transportation — clean energy, water, rural broadband. If we do this in a national systemic way, we can provide assets that can benefit all Americans for 50 plus years,” Mortimer said in an interview with Yahoo Finance.
Mortimer agreed with Biden’s warnings about China’s infrastructure investments and called for a “national blueprint” before July 4.
“The longer we delay having a national infrastructure initiative, the more we're going to lose productivity, the more we're going to have a decrease in our quality of life —and other countries are doing it,” said Mortimer.
“This is something that only the federal government can show leadership on,” he added. “We in the business community are willing to work with any of the stakeholders in this debate to get this done, so we can begin building and begin having economic growth for the long term.”
Jessica Smith is chief political correspondent for Yahoo Finance, based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.