Discover more from Letters from an American
February 15, 2023
President Joe Biden hit the road today to continue the push to highlight the successes of his administration's investment in the economy. In Lanham, Maryland, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 26, he celebrated the economic plan that “grows the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not the top down.”
He praised union labor and said that the nation’s investment in green energy would mean “good-paying jobs for electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, laborers, carpenters, cement masons, ironworkers, and so much more. And these are good jobs you can raise a family on.” “It’s a stark contrast to our Republican friends, who are doubling down on the same failed politics of the past. Top-down, trickle-down economics is not much trickle down…to most kitchen tables in America,” he said.
He reiterated that he would lay out his budget on March 9 and that he expected the Republicans to lay out theirs, so people can compare the two. Biden maintains that his policy of investing in infrastructure and putting money in the hands of ordinary Americans will nurture the economy and reduce the deficit as growth brings in more tax dollars. Meanwhile, he said, the Republican tax cut of 2017 has already added $2 trillion to the federal deficit.
Good economic news is putting wind under Biden’s wings. The economy continues to perform better than expected in 2023. Retail buying increased 3% in January, and the job market remains strong. The administration today highlighted another series of large private sector investments in American manufacturing: Boeing announced that Air India has contracted to buy more than 200 aircraft; Ford announced it will build a $3.5 billion factory in Marshall, Michigan, to make advanced batteries for electric vehicles; and Texas Instruments announced it will build an $11 billion semiconductor plant in Lehi, Utah.
Biden emphasized that these investments would provide “good-paying jobs that [Americans] can raise a family on, the revitalization of entire communities that have often been left behind, and America leading the world again in the industries that drive the future.”
Biden accused the Republicans of proposing measures that would raise the deficit, which is already rising again. The Congressional Budget Office today projected a much higher deficit for 2023 than it did in May 2022 because of new laws, mandatory spending for Social Security and Medicare, and higher interest rates in place to combat inflation. The CBO notes that “spending substantially exceeds revenues in our projections even though pandemic-related spending lessens. In addition, rising interest rates drive up the cost of borrowing. The resulting deficits steadily increase the government’s debt. Over the long term, our projections suggest that changes in fiscal policy must be made to address the rising costs of interest and mitigate other adverse consequences of high and rising debt.”
This is precisely what Republicans have been complaining about with regard to the Democrats’ recent laws to rebuild infrastructure and invest in the economy, while ignoring that their own tax cuts have also added mightily to the deficit. Republicans want to address the rising deficit with spending cuts; Biden, with taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.
Biden appears to be trying to turn the nation to a modern version of the era before Reagan, when the government provided a basic social safety net, protected civil rights, promoted infrastructure, and regulated business. Since the 1980s, the Republicans have advocated deregulation with the argument that government interference in the way a company does business interrupts the market economy.
But the derailment of fifty Norfolk Southern train cars, eleven of which carried hazardous chemicals, near East Palestine, Ohio, near the northeastern border of the state on February 3 has powerfully illustrated the downsides of deregulation. The accident released highly toxic chemicals into the air, water, and ground, causing a massive fire and forcing about 5,000 nearby residents in Ohio and Pennsylvania to evacuate. On February 6, when it appeared some of the rail cars would explode, officials allowed the company to release and burn the toxic vinyl chloride stored in it. The controlled burn sent highly toxic phosgene, used as a weapon in World War I, into the air.
Republican Ohio governor Mike DeWine has refused federal assistance from President Biden, who, he said, called to offer “anything you need.” DeWine said he had not called back to take him up on the offer. “We will not hesitate to do that if we’re seeing a problem or anything, but I’m not seeing it,” he said.
Just over the border, Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said that Norfolk Southern had botched its response to the accident. “Norfolk Southern has repeatedly assured us of the safety of their rail cars—in fact, leading Norfolk Southern personnel described them to me as ‘the Cadillac of rail cars’—yet despite these assertions, these were the same cars that Norfolk Southern personnel rushed to vent and burn without gathering input from state and local leaders. Norfolk Southern’s well known opposition to modern regulations [requires] further scrutiny and investigation to limit the devastating effects of future accidents on people’s lives, property, businesses, and the environment.”
Shapiro was likely referring to the fact that in 2017, after donors from the railroad industry poured more than $6 million into Republican political campaigns, the Trump administration got rid of a rule imposed by the Obama administration that required better braking systems on rail cars that carried hazardous flammable materials.
According to David Sirota, Julia Rock, Rebecca Burns, and Matthew Cunningham-Cook, writing in the investigative journal The Lever, Norfolk Southern supported the repeal, telling regulators new electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on high-hazard flammable trains (HHFT) would “impose tremendous costs without providing offsetting safety benefits.” Railroads also lobbied to limit the definition of HFFT to cover primarily trains that carry oil, not industrial chemicals. The train that derailed in Ohio was not classified as an HHFT.
Nonetheless, Ohio’s new far-right Republican senator J. D. Vance went on the Fox News Channel show of personality Tucker Carlson to blame the Biden administration for the accident. He said there was no excuse for failing infrastructure after the passage last year of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and said that the administration is too focused on “environmental racism and other ridiculous things.” We are, he said, “ruled by unserious people.”
He also issued a statement saying that “my office will continue to work with FEMA” over the issue, although FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has not been mobilized because Ohio governor DeWine has not requested a federal disaster declaration.