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AP
Biden announces huge infrastructure plan to 'win the future'
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PITTSBURGH – President Joe Biden on Wednesday outlined a $2.3 trillion plan to reengineer the nation’s infrastructure over the next eight years in what he billed as “a once in a generation investment in America” that would undo his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement of giant tax cuts for corporations in the process.

Speaking at a carpenters union training center in Pittsburgh, Biden drew comparisons between his hard-hatted proposed transformation of the U.S. economy and the space race – and promised results as grand in scale as the New Deal or Great Society programs that shaped the 20th century.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs.”

White House officials say the spending would generate those jobs as the country shifts away from fossil fuels and combats the perils of climate change. It is also an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world’s second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States’ dominant position.

“I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say this is the moment when America won the future,” Biden said.

Funding for the infrastructure projects would come from a hike on corporate taxes that would aim to raise the necessary piles of money over 15 years and then reduce the deficit going forward. In doing so, Biden would undo the action by Trump and congressional Republicans to lift the corporate tax rate to 28% from the 21% rate set in a 2017 overhaul.

“Ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies, including Amazon, pay not a single solitary penny in income tax,” Biden said.

Wednesday’s announcement will be followed in coming weeks by Biden pushing a companion bill of roughly equal size for investments in child care, family tax credits and other domestic programs. That nearly $2 trillion package would be paid for by tax hikes on wealthy individuals and families.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” Biden said. “You, the great middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

Biden’s choice of Pittsburgh for unveiling the plan carried important economic and political resonance. He not only won Pittsburgh and its surrounding county to help secure the presidency, but he launched his campaign there in 2019. The city famed for steel mills that powered America’s industrial rise has steadily pivoted toward technology and health care, drawing in college graduates in a sign of how economies can change.

The Democratic president’s infrastructure projects would be financed by higher corporate taxes – a trade-off that could lead to fierce resistance from the business community and thwart attempts to work with Republicans lawmakers. Biden hopes to pass an infrastructure plan by summer, which could mean relying solely on the slim Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.

The White House says the largest chunk of the proposal includes $621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, electric vehicle charging stations and other transportation infrastructure. The spending would push the country away from internal combustion engines that the auto industry views as an increasingly antiquated technology.

An additional $111 billion would go to replace lead water pipes and upgrade sewers. Broadband internet would blanket the country for $100 billion. Separately, $100 billion would upgrade the power grid to deliver clean electricity. Homes would get retrofitted, schools modernized, workers trained and hospitals renovated under the plan, which also seeks to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.

The new construction could keep the economy running hot, coming on the heels of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Economists already estimate it could push growth above 6% this year.

To keep companies from shifting profits overseas to avoid taxation, a 21% global minimum tax would be imposed. The tax code would also be updated so that companies could not merge with a foreign business and avoid taxes by moving their headquarters to a tax haven. And among other provisions, it would increase IRS audits of corporations.

Biden appealed for Republicans and the business community to join him in negotiations on the bill, but the legislative prospects for Biden’s twin proposals already appear to hinge on Democrats coming up with the votes on their own through the budget reconciliation process, which requires just a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate.

“I’m going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office, listen to them, what they have to say and be open to other ideas,” Biden said. “We’ll have a good faith negotiation. Any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”

Democratic leaders embraced Biden’s plan on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said it would create millions of jobs.

“I look forward to working with President Biden to pass a big, bold plan that will drive America forward for decades to come,” Schumer said at an event in Buffalo.

But key GOP and business leaders were already panning the package.

“It seems like President Biden has an insatiable appetite to spend more money and raise people’s taxes,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip, said in an interview.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Biden’s package as nothing more than a “Trojan horse” for tax hikes.

The business community favors updating U.S. infrastructure but dislikes higher tax rates. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley, said in a statement that “we applaud the Biden administration for making infrastructure a top priority. However, we believe the proposal is dangerously misguided when it comes to how to pay for infrastructure.” The Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs, would rather have infrastructure funded with user fees such as tolls.

Trump, in a statement, blasted his successor’s proposal, claiming it “would be among the largest self-inflicted economic wounds in history.”

Infrastructure spending usually holds the promise of juicing economic growth, but by how much remains a subject of political debate. Commutes and shipping times could be shortened, while public health would be improved and construction jobs would bolster consumer spending.

Standard & Poor’s chief U.S. economist, Beth Ann Bovino, estimated last year that a $2.1 trillion boost in infrastructure spending could add as much as $5.7 trillion in income to the entire economy over a decade. Those kinds of analyses have led liberal Democrats in Congress such as Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal to conclude Tuesday, “The economic consensus is that infrastructure pays for itself over time.”

But the Biden administration is taking a more cautious approach than some Democrats might like. After $1.9 trillion in pandemic aid and $4 trillion in relief last year, the administration is trying to avoid raising the national debt to levels that would trigger higher interest rates and make it harder to repay.

Biden’s efforts may also be complicated by demands from a handful of Democratic lawmakers who say they cannot support the bill unless it addresses the $10,000 cap on individuals’ state and local tax deductions put in place under Trump and a Republican-led Congress.

With a narrow majority in the House, they could conceivably quash any bill that doesn’t significantly lift the cap or repeal it entirely.

“I can only vote for a bill that has meaningful tax impact for my constituents if it addresses the SALT cap,” tweeted Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J.

“We say No SALT, no deal,” said Democratic Reps. Tom Suozzi of New York and Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey in a joint statement.

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Miller and Freking reported from Washington. AP writers Lisa Mascaro, Josh Boak and Padmananda Rama contributed from Washington


National
AP
Ex-cop told onlooker Floyd was big, 'probably on something'

MINNEAPOLIS – After the ambulance took George Floyd away, the Minneapolis officer who had pinned his knee on the Black man’s neck defended himself to a bystander by saying Floyd was “a sizable guy” and “probably on something,” according to police video played in court Wednesday.

The video was part of a mountain of footage – both official and amateur – and witness testimony at Officer Derek Chauvin ‘s murder trial that all together showed how Floyd’s alleged attempt to pass a phony $20 bill at a neighborhood market last May escalated into tragedy one video-documented step at a time.

A security-camera scene of people joking around inside the store soon gave way to the sight of officers pulling Floyd from his SUV at gunpoint, struggling to push him into a squad car as he writhed, cried out and complained of being claustrophobic, and then putting him on the pavement.

When Floyd was finally taken away by paramedics, Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old bystander who recognized Chauvin from the neighborhood, told the officer he didn’t respect what Chauvin had done.

“That’s one person’s opinion,” Chauvin could be heard responding. “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”

Floyd was 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, according to the autopsy, which also found fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system. Chauvin’s lawyer said the officer is 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter, accused of killing the 46-year-old Floyd by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as he lay face-down in handcuffs. The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer carries up to 40 years in prison.

Floyd’s death, along with the harrowing bystander video of him gasping for breath as onlookers yelled at Chauvin to get off him, triggered sometimes violent protests around the world and a reckoning over racism and police brutality across the U.S.

Jurors were shown police bodycam video of the approximately 20 minutes between when police approached Floyd’s vehicle and when he was loaded into the ambulance.

Officers were clearly exasperated and could be heard cursing as Floyd braced himself against the squad car and arched his body while the police tried to get him inside. He resisted going in, saying over and over that he was claustrophobic. At one point, he threw his upper body out of the car, and officers tried to push him back in.

Once in the backseat, he twisted and writhed, and officers eventually pulled him out and brought him to the ground. Floyd thanked officers as they took him out of the squad car.

Once Floyd was on the ground – with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, another officer’s knee on his back and a third holding his legs – the officers talked calmly about whether he might be on drugs.

Officer Thomas Lane was heard saying officers found a “weed pipe” on Floyd and wondered if he might be on PCP, saying Floyd’s eyes were shaking back and forth fast.

“He wouldn’t get out of the car. He just wasn’t following instructions,” Lane was recorded saying. The officer also asked twice if the officers should roll Floyd on his side, and later said calmly that he thinks Floyd is passing out.

As Floyd was pinned down by Chauvin and other officers, McMillian, the bystander, could be heard on video saying to Floyd, “You can’t win” and “Get up and get in the car.”

Floyd replied: “I can’t.”

The defense has argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer’s knee, as prosecutors contend, but by Floyd’s illegal drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body.

Events spun out of control earlier that day soon after Floyd allegedly handed a cashier at Cup Foods, 19-year-old Christopher Martin, a counterfeit bill for a pack of cigarettes.

Martin testified Wednesday that he watched Floyd’s arrest outside with “disbelief – and guilt.”

“If I would’ve just not tooken the bill, this could’ve been avoided,” Martin lamented, joining the burgeoning list of witnesses who expressed a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt over Floyd’s death.

Martin said he immediately believed the $20 bill was fake. But he said he accepted it, despite believing the amount would be taken out of his paycheck by his employer, because he didn’t think Floyd knew it was counterfeit and “I thought I’d be doing him a favor.”

Martin then second-guessed his decision and told a manager, who sent Martin outside to ask Floyd to return to the store. But Floyd and a passenger in his SUV twice refused to go back into the store to resolve the issue, and the manager had a co-worker call police, Martin testified.

Martin said that when Floyd was inside the store buying cigarettes, he spoke so slowly “it would appear that he was high.” But he described Floyd as friendly and talkative.

After police arrived, Martin went outside as people were gathering on the curb and yelling at officers. He said he saw Officer Tou Thao push one of his co-workers. Martin said he also held back another man who was trying to defend himself after being pushed by Thao.

Wednesday morning’s testimony was briefly interrupted when a juror stood and raised her hand and gestured toward the door. She later told the judge that she had been feeling stress and having trouble sleeping, but told the judge she was OK to proceed.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd


Ongoing_coverage
featured
State to open COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older April 19

Pennsylvania expects to meet the April 19 federal deadline to make all residents 16 and older eligible to register for a COVID-19 vaccine, the state Health Department said Wednesday.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam also said more people from the state’s 1B eligibility list, including police, firefighters and grocery store workers, were to be immediately able to schedule an appointment for a vaccine.

“We are making progress,” Beam said Wednesday during a virtual briefing on the state’s response to the virus.

The state will move April 12 into the 1C eligibility list, which includes members of the media and elected officials.

State Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-South Strabane Township, said Washington County will meet the challenge to make vaccination clinics available within five miles of all residents, as was promised Monday by President Joe Biden.

O’Neal, a member of the state’s Vaccine Task Force, said the existing vaccine providers will spread the clinics out as more vaccine doses are supplied to the state.

The providers include Centerville Clinics, Washington Health System, Mon Valley Hospital, Cornerstone Care and Canonsburg Hospital.

“I think we’ve done a ton of improvements,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “I’m honored to be part of the solution.”

Another major challenge in the vaccine effort involves convincing some people that they are safe and a vital piece of efforts to contain COVID-19, Beam said.

Washington County Commission Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan said about 20% of the residents of senior high rises in the county didn’t want a vaccine.

The county also offered a half-day off to its employees if they showed proof of a vaccination as an incentive to get the shots, Irey Vaughan said.

“It’s working,” she said.

The increase in vaccines comes at a time when new cases of the virus and related hospitalizations continued to rise in Pennsylvania and many other states.

Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen reported a new surge in cases Wednesday, averaging about 400 a day, numbers that were similar to mid-January.

Bogen said many people have recently been ignoring mask-wearing and social-distancing orders. One spike linked to a large party for young children unrelated to their school resulted in the closing of an elementary school, Bogen said.

Pennsylvania announced 4,557 new cases of the virus Wednesday, taking the statewide total since March 2020 to 1,024,857.

The virus has killed 25,093 Pennsylvanians after 44 new deaths were reported, including two in Fayette County and one in Washington County.

Washington County reported 84 new cases, taking its cumulative total to 15,114. Fayette added 42 new cases to its total of 11,216. Greene’s case-count grew by 11 to 2,865.


Coronavirus
editor's pick
Pfizer announces COVID-19 vaccine 100% effective in 12- to 15-year-olds

BioNTech-Pfizer said Wednesday their vaccine is 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in 12- to 15-year-olds.

Pfizer plans to request emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds in the coming weeks, “with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Dr. Thomas Corkery, chief medical officer at Allegheny Health Network Canonsburg Hospital, called the results “a positive step forward” in the effort to protect more people against COVID-19 and to make schools safer.

“I think it’s good news,” said Corkery. “I think it’s important that in the future we’ll be able to offer the vaccine to the younger population.”

The Pfizer vaccine trial included 2,260 12- to 15-year-olds in the United States. About half were given the real shots, while the other half received a placebo.

Pfizer said the vaccine “demonstrated 100% efficacy and robust antibody responses” among those who received it.

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for use in people 16 and older in the United States.

“We share the urgency to expand the authorization of our vaccine to use in younger populations and are encouraged by the clinical trial data from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15,” Bourla said.

Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, said the trial’s results were “very encouraging, given the trends we have seen in recent weeks regarding the spread of the B.1.1.7 UK variant.”

Corkery said he has “no doubt about the safety of the vaccine” and noted that, while studies show that COVID-19 isn’t as severe in children, that doesn’t mean kids aren’t at risk of getting sick – in some cases, seriously ill.

He also noted that in schools where mask-wearing, social distancing and other guidelines are being followed, “kids aren’t a huge harbinger of COVID.”

But if they’re not taking precautions, children very well could spread it to adults.

Meanwhile, Corkery stressed the importance of continuing to vaccinate the adult population.


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