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At home in Scranton, facing a fight in D.C., Biden pitches his sprawling domestic agenda

President Joe Biden pitches his Build Back Better agenda during a stop in his childhood hometown of Scranton, Pa., on Wednesday, 10/20/21 (Capital-Star photo by Patrick Abdalla).

President declares “I think people are beginning to figure out what’s at stake”

SCRANTON, Pa. — President Joe Biden took the stage Wednesday in his childhood hometown surrounded by striking images of America’s infrastructure.

A retired Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority railcar sitting to his far right offered an example of how neglected the country’s infrastructure has been. Its letters were barely visible. The door’s paint was scuffed and faded.

Next to it, however, stood a refurbished trolley car, decked out in patriotic pennants and “Build Back Better” signs.

Biden used his speech at Electric City Trolley Museum in downtown Scranton to argue his signature domestic agenda will make the nation’s infrastructure resemble the tricked-out trolley instead of the rusted-out railcar.

That change will improve the nation’s economy and environment, he said.

“Did you realize the Chinese are now building a train that will go up to 300 miles per hour?” Biden asked. “You say, ‘What difference does that make, Biden?’ Well, guess what? If you can take a train from here to Washington much faster than you can go in an automobile, you take a train. We will take literally millions of automobiles off the road, saving tens of millions of barrels of oil.”

After spending the first few months of his administration dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and getting the nation vaccinated, the president has moved on to expansive infrastructure and economic plans.

They would include massive investments in transportation, broadband, early childhood education, and other areas. However, the razor-thin majority Democrats hold in Congress has meant a protracted and frustrating legislative fight for the president.

He’s not giving up.

“This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it,” Biden said. “But I think we’re going to surprise them because I think people are beginning to figure out what’s at stake.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District, sounded confident the bills would eventually pass.

Roadblocks remain.

Just hours before Biden took the stage, NPR reported that the administration was dropping its plan for two years of tuition-free community college.

The goals Biden set out to accomplish are important ones, State Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, said. They’re going to take care of people’s basic needs, she said.

State Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, brought up the child tax credit, saying that was public policy that people could see immediately affect their finances. Biden wants to extend the program.

“I think that’s huge,” Flynn said.

Madden also said the possibility of a passenger train running from Scranton to New York City would make a huge difference to the region.

“I feel like we’re closer than ever,” she told The Capital Star.

Larry Malski, the president of the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority, has been advocating for rail’s return to the region for decades and knows what it feels like to face empty promises.

Is he optimistic?

“More so than I have been in 40 years,” he said.

Everyone talks about the possible line. That Amtrak’s CEO and president attended Biden’s speech didn’t go unnoticed.

The president bragged about his connections to the rail line, pointing out he has 2 million Amtrak miles under his belt. That comes from decades of commuting between his home in Delaware and Washington D.C.

He also spent the first 10 years of his life in Scranton, and has recently returned to the narrative of pitting Scranton values against Wall Street interests as he struggles to get his legislation passed.

This time, he didn’t just talk about the values he learned as a child in 1940s Scranton, but how the city’s growth in the late 1800s and early 20th century can be repeated with different resources.

It’s a parallel to the nation for Biden.

“Coal built this town,” he said, “but we have to provide other avenues.”

Biden argued the nation has to go back to the values of promoting and investing in education.

Scranton would benefit from the green energy jobs in the region and several of the programs in his infrastructure and spending bills, he said.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown agrees.

Before the speech, he talked to the Capital-Star about how his city is still grappling with issues from the pandemic. Businesses like Guard Insurance employ thousands, but are still operating on a work-from-home system. That has starved downtown restaurants and businesses of much-needed revenue.

Meanwhile, the region is grappling with more and more damage from strong storms.

So, the funds Biden is advocating for would take a lot of pressure off the city government, Brown said.

Brown advocated for the region, pointing out that if this region is successful, it will be a boon for the state, and be a building block for the nation’s economic return.

Correspondent Patrick Abdalla contributes to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which first published this report. Follow him on Twitter @WhatTheFather.

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