AFP infrastructure protest

Activists with Americans for Prosperity protest President Joe Biden's infrastructure plans during his visit to Macungie, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 2021.

(The Center Square) – Activists with Americans for Prosperity stood across the street from the Macks Trucks plant in Lehigh County where President Joe Biden stumped his multi-trillion infrastructure proposal on Wednesday to protest the “wasteful” spending it contains.

“When most folks think of AFP and our activists, they think of fiscal watchdogs,” said Ashley Klingensmith, director of the organization’s Pennsylvania chapter, during an interview with The Center Square. “We know that fractions on the dollar are actually going to go to physical infrastructure like roads and bridges and public transit and airports. It’s time to refocus.”

Biden came to the manufacturing plant in Macungie to tout his plan, dubbed Build Back Better, that would earmark federal money for infrastructure projects, universal pre-kindergarten programs, paid family leave and orphan well capping, among a laundry list of other Democratic priorities designed to “rebuild” the middle class.

The $1.2 trillion proposal, combined with a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package pending in Congress, leaves Republicans concerned about rising inflation – a side effect the Biden administration says will slow next year as the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We brought this economy back from the brink,” Biden told factory workers during a speech Wednesday. “Checks in people's pockets, shots in people's arms, tax cuts for working families with children. And we designed our strategy not only to provide a temporary boost, but to lay the foundation for a long-term boom that brings everyone along.” 

Except, Klingensmith said, the “out of control spending” hurts the very people the president wants to help the most.

“Folks understand what inflation is doing and what it’s costing us,” she said. “We know we have been harmed from the influx of money that has been spent in Washington over the past year. This [plan] is going to do more harm. It’s going to hurt Americans of all stripes.” 

Recent federal data shows that the “all items index” spiked 5.4% in the last 12 months, the most significant increase since the 2008 financial crisis, The Center Square previously reported. 

A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll conducted in May found that 85% of Americans have concerns about inflation. The American Action Network’s most recent survey likewise concluded that 88% of respondents worry about the rising cost of living.

“You can feel it at the gas pump,” Klingensmith said. “You can feel it at the grocery store. People are just seeing what these decisions are leading to and saying ‘we’ve gotta stop.’”

Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, echoed Klingensmith’s sentiments, blaming both the president and Gov. Tom Wolf’s economic policies for causing “runaway inflation” and an “unprecedented” labor shortage “fueled by stay-at-home payments.”

“Our focus on economic recovery and protecting Pennsylvania families has been the benchmark in commonsense throughout the pandemic,” he said. 

Wolf, who joined Biden at the Mack production plant Wednesday, said the president’s goal of increasing the amount of American-made parts bought by the federal government goes hand-in-hand with his administration’s focus on preserving and creating high-paying manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania is home to a diverse manufacturing sector that provide quality, good-paying, family-sustaining jobs in every region of our commonwealth and I’m honored that President Biden came home to Pennsylvania to make this announcement and highlight one of the many manufacturers that are making important products here,” he said.

Molly Parzen, interim executive director of Conversation Voters of PA, applauded the environmentally-focused elements of the president’s plans.

The Macungie plant, she said, employs more than 2,000 workers “in well-paying union jobs” that sit at the “forefront of technological innovation” by producing electric garbage trucks.

“Jobs like this are the future of the American economy,” she said. “And we need leaders … to pass bold, transformative legislation that will create opportunities for all Americans while also fighting climate change.”

Klingensmith said climate change initiatives and other non-infrastructure priorities should be left out the plan entirely and saved for a “separate conversation."

“Look, we are the ones standing in the gap between this administration and [Senate] Leader [Chuck] Schumer and [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the future generations that are going to have to pay for these decisions,” she said. “Someone’s going to have to pay.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.