President Joe Biden delivers remarks at New Jersey Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, N.J., on Monday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 25 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Monday visited an elementary school and a multimodal transit center in New Jersey as congressional Democrats appeared close to an agreement on his "Build Back Better" agenda.
The president spent part of the day at East End Elementary School in North Plainfield, N.J., where he touted proposed funding for universal preschool, and later announced that construction would begin soon on a key rail bridge while appearing at the New Jersey Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex.
"This is about betting on America," Biden said at the complex in Kearny, N.J., while standing in front a trio of train locomotives. "Given half a chance, the American people have never, ever let our country down. Let's get this done. Let's move."
The trip came as Democrats were nearing final agreement on the Build Back Better Act, the larger of the two spending proposals which Democrats hope to pass through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process -- a social spending package that, among other provisions, calls for establishing universal preschool for all.
A separate, bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package already agreed to would hard fund "hard" infrastructure improvements to fix roads and bridges and improve train travel, among other provisions. The White House says the bipartisan bill makes the "largest federal investment in public transit ever, the most significant investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago."
In touting the transportation benefits of the bipartisan bill, Biden presided over the ceremonial groundbreaking of the new Portal Bridge, which is one of the busiest rail spans in the country.
The new $1.6 billion bridge, part of the Northeast Corridor, could start to see traffic by 2025 and be fully completed in 2027.
"For most of the 20th century, we led the world by a significant margin because we invested in ourselves and we invested in our people, not only in our roads and bridges and highways," the president said. "Somewhere along the way, we took our eyes off the road."
At the elementary school, he promoted universal preschool for all children as part of the social spending measure. He interacted with young students as they worked on building blocks and solved math problems, asking them if they enjoyed school.
Biden was accompanied by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy during the school visit. Murphy is in a re-election race next year against Republican challenger and former state legislator Jack Ciattarelli.
The administration's BBB Act proposal has undergone a number of changes since it was introduced earlier this year, due mainly to opposition to various parts by centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that 90% of the BBB Act has been written and agreed upon. She said she expects the bill to be completed by the end of this week.
Some progressive Democrats in the House have said they won't vote for the infrastructure bill until the BBB Act, which they consider a top priority, is completed.