Biden: Public Works Plan Can Boost US That's 'Fallen Behind'

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- President Joe Biden opened a two-day visit to the Pacific Northwest by focusing on improvements planned for the runway and roof of the airport where he landed Thursday, rather than any of the region's traditional, natural attractions.

Portland International Airport lies on a tectonic plate fault line, but crews are working on a series of modernizations, including a new, earthquake-resistant runway capable of accommodating jets coming and going even after a major natural disaster. The design is modeled after the runway of the Sendai airport in Japan, which Biden said he'd visited and which survived the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in that country.

The trip is Biden's first as president to this part of the country and comes as he has increased travel across the U.S. to tout the $1 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure package his administration backed and Congress approved last fall. Just since last week, Biden has been to Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire, and traveled to Seattle after the Oregon stop.

The president has been trying to promote the idea that he's successfully advanced key policy goals -- including providing badly needed funding for long-neglected public works projects around the country -- despite Republicans in Congress opposing many of the White House's priorities at every turn. The GOP counters that Biden has done little to tackle many of the nation's most pressing issues, failing to control inflation that has climbed to its highest levels in more than 40 years or slow crime rates that are on the rise in some parts of the country.

"We've fallen behind. We haven't invested in ourselves," Biden said in a speech during which he noted that the public works package includes $25 billion to improve airports across America. "It bothers the heck out of me that there's this belief that we can't do big things anymore. We can."

He added, "America invented modern aviation, but a lot of our airports are far behind our competitors."

Portland's airport is flanked by mountains and hills, yet, before his remarks, Biden was more attentive to the workers as they explained how the improvements would increase resiliency and energy efficiency. Officials are spending $2 billion on the airport revamp, including upgrades to the complex's roof whose new sections will be primarily made of wood.

The roof is being disassembled into 20 sections and then pieced back together over the terminal, which Democratic Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley called "an incredible investment in mass timber."

The White House says about 19.8 million passengers traveled through Portland's airport in 2019, and says air cargo has increased more than 19% since 2019 as online commerce has grown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those on-hand was Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, who said, "I've been fighting my entire career for investments that will rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure." He said the U.S. continues to face systemic challenges, including "an economy that rewards wealth instead of work."

Biden later headed to a Democratic Party fundraiser at Portland's yacht club, where he took aim at the GOP and Florida Sen. Rick Scott's proposals for tax increases on the middle class and a potential end to Social Security. The president noted that Florida Republicans also are fighting with the Walt Disney Co. over their "don't say gay" law for schools and predicted that Democrats would add two seats to secure a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

"The far right's taken over that party," Biden said. "And it's not even conservative in a traditional sense of conservatism. It's mean. It's ugly." He attended another party fundraiser in Seattle Thursday night.

Historically, the party that controls the White House usually losses congressional seats in the next midterm races -- and Republicans have suggested for months that they will easily win control of the House and Senate in November. Scott, the head of the Senate GOP's campaign arm, has proposed imposing income taxes on more than half of Americans who currently don't pay any, and moving to phase out federal legislation after five years -- which could presumably threaten Social Security.

Biden plans to mark Earth Day on Friday in Seattle by speaking about a need to bolster the nation's resilience in the face of threats like wildfire, and a need to rapidly deploy clean energy, the White House said.

In an Earth Day statement, Biden called the infrastructure law "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on these actions and accelerate our nation's ability to confront the environmental and climate challenges we face."

"For the future of our planet, for our health, and for our children and grandchildren, we must act now," it said.