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Biden touts jobs plan, hits Trump for 'life and death betrayal' on COVID-19

Craig Mauger Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Warren — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took aim during a Wednesday speech at President Donald Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and promises he made to create manufacturing jobs.

Speaking in the parking lot of the United Auto Workers Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Biden referenced claims in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward. The book says Trump labeled the virus "deadly" in February, a month before Michigan reported its first cases, and later told Woodward he minimized the danger the virus presented, according to the Associated Press.

"It was a life and death betrayal of the American people," Biden said during the 28-minute speech.

At a campaign stop in Warren on Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden proposed a surtax on profits that U.S. companies receive on goods made overseas and sold in the U.S.

The former vice president also said getting a good job in 2020 should be an "expectation" and pushed a plan to stop the shipping or "offshoring" of U.S. jobs overseas. But economic experts questioned whether it would work as advertised.

Biden vowed to be the “most friendly" president to unions in "the history of the United States of America." At multiple points, he referenced a General Motors Co. transmission plant in Warren that closed in 2019.

"I don't expect the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization mean we can't keep good-paying union jobs here in America and create more of them," Biden said in his first trip to Michigan since becoming the Democratic nominee and since winning the state's March 10 presidential primary election.

In 2018, GM proposed closing four U.S. plants to save billions of dollars amid sagging demand for cars. Trump criticized GM's jobs-cutting plan at the time and spoke to CEO Mary Barra about it.

"I spoke with her when I heard they were closing and I said, you know, this country has done a lot for General Motors," said Trump, referring to the federal bailout of the Detroit automaker in 2008-09. 

The Warren plant as well as facilities in Lordstown, Ohio, and Baltimore were closed under a 2019 UAW contract approved by the membership that included raises and bonuses that outpaced inflation, the elimination of the $12,000 cap on profit-sharing payouts and a record $11,000 ratification bonus. But GM revived the Warren facility this year during the pandemic to make COVID-19 personal protection equipment.

Michigan had lost auto manufacturing jobs under Trump even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Biden said. During a Grand Rapids rally before the November 2016 election, Trump said he would bring back the automobile industry in Michigan "bigger and better and stronger than ever before."

"He’s hoping we just have poor memories. He doesn’t give us much credit," Biden said.

Plan raises doubts

The former vice president promised he would take on companies that send manufacturing overseas against the backdrop of American-made vehicles while surrounded by union workers. Earlier in the day, Biden unveiled a plan that would penalize companies that move jobs out of the country and reward ones that invest inside its borders.

The Democratic presidential nominee's plan calls for a 28% corporate tax rate, an increase from the current 21% rate. It would create a 10% "offshoring penalty surtax" on those taxes for profits U.S. companies make on goods made overseas and sold in the U.S., which would result in a 30.8% tax rate.

The surtax also would apply to call centers or services by an American company located overseas but serving the United States when jobs could have been located in the United States, the plan says.

"If your big corporate strategy is to boost your shareholders' profits, your CEOs' bonuses, by moving jobs out, well, we are going to make sure you not only pay full U.S. taxes on those profits, but we are going to guarantee we're going to add a 10% offshoring surtax to your bill," Biden said in Warren.

But economic experts questioned the initiative and said it could do the opposite, pushing companies instead to have foreign companies supply products and make America less of a place companies will want to invest in. 

"If you want to provide good jobs for Americans and you want an attractive place to do business, you need to make it competitive with the rest of the world and increasing the rate from 21% to 28% does not make you more competitive with the rest of the world. That's putting it mildly," said James R. Hines Jr., research director at the University of Michigan’s Office of Tax Policy Research and economics professor.

Biden's plan does include a 10% tax credit for certain investments that spur more domestic manufacturing jobs. The “Made in America” tax credit would be available for companies that revitalize closed facilities, expand U.S. employment and bring jobs back to the United States.

"If you made it less expensive to invest in the United States, more people would invest in the United States," said Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group.

Anderson sees the offshoring tax as "completely unworkable sentiment-based tax policy that even a Democratic-controlled Congress would be unlikely to adopt because it would have the effect of reducing the number of jobs in America."

The Biden plan, Hines says, doesn't push foreign companies that sell in the U.S. to have production here.

"All that's going to do is if there is some product where the most efficient way to manufacture it is to make it in Canada and sell it in America, there will only be Canadian companies that do it ... and American companies won't," Hines said. "But have you really achieved anything if you've stopped American companies from doing it, but you're not stopping Canadian companies?"

Trump hits Snyder

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow were in attendance for the speech as well as a slew of UAW officials. The former vice president's campaign released its new proposals hours before the stop in Macomb County, a swing county that Trump won four years ago after former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won it two times before.

Biden was endorsed last week by some Republicans, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, who said he wanted a return to civility in politics. But Trump took a shot at Snyder, who was Whitmer's predecessor, in a Wednesday night Twitter barrage that included pointed remarks about how the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint occurred while the Ann Arbor Republican was governor.

"The failed former Governor of Michigan, RINO Rick Snyder, who was responsible for the Flint Water Disaster (and I let him know it!), is now endorsing Sleepy Joe Biden, who doesn’t have a clue! Snyder, whose political career was ruined by Flint, hurt a lot of people in Michigan..."

"I’ll take the Endorsement of Law Enforcement all over the Country, and Joe can have the RINO’S," he also tweeted, "This Snyder mess was made during the OBiden era - no wonder they’re friends!"

As recently as March, Biden while campaigning in Michigan criticized the fallout from the Flint Water Crisis while campaigning in Michigan. Flint “has become shorthand for the incredible division that still exists in this country, based on ZIP code," the former vice president said.

"We aren’t looking for a revolution, but what we want to be able to do is trust the water comes out of the pipe,” he said.

Trump, the Republican incumbent, won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, becoming the first GOP presidential nominee to carry the state since 1988. Trump has made past trade agreements that spurred jobs to move out of the U.S. a focus of his campaigns and of his criticism of Biden.

Biden spent his career "outsourcing the dreams of American workers, offshoring their jobs," Trump contended during the Republican National Convention in August.

Michigan Republicans criticized Biden on Wednesday for making proposals that are similar to points Trump has made on the campaign trail. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, called Biden "Johnny-come-lately."

Joe Biden speaks to media as he walks to board his plane General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wis., Thursday.

"He's singing a song that was produced by the guy he's opposing," Walberg said of Biden.

But Biden's campaign said Trump's 2017 tax plan gave "the largest tax cut ever to major multinational companies with no requirement that they invest in America or hire American workers."

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on manufacturing and buying American-made products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

Buy American rules

Biden's campaign said Wednesday that he will issue an executive order to direct federal procurement to abide by "buy American" rules and "ensure critical goods are produced at home when America needs them."

During his speech, he also mentioned a plan to offer incentives to spur customers to swap older vehicles for newer, American-made models. American manufacturing was the "Arsenal of Democracy" in World War II, he said.

“Guess what? It’s going to be part of the engine of American prosperity now in 2021. And we’re going to make it happen with American grit, American determination and American union workers," Biden said.

The Biden proposal is reminiscent of a $3 billion Obama administration initiative known as “cash for clunkers,” which helped more than 690,000 people buy a new car in 2009 with government rebates of up to $4,500.

Critics argued car sales receded after the federal incentives expired because consumers moved up their planned purchases to take advantage of the government subsidy. Under the law, the clunker trade-ins — vehicles getting less than 18 miles per gallon — were required to be "scrapped, crushed, or shredded," creating a decline in supply that resulted in historic high prices for used cars and fewer charity vehicle donations.

Biden ended his day of campaigning in Michigan by telling a group of steelworkers that Trump is letting the country go to "hell in a handbasket economically." The Democratic nominee spoke Wednesday night with four steelworkers in a small backyard gathering in Detroit for about 45 minutes.

The Democrat's campaign has focused on Biden's record on auto manufacturing jobs, including his involvement in the 2009 auto bailout. Biden has been endorsed by the UAW, which traditionally backs the Democratic nominee.

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble had planned to welcome Biden for Wednesday's event but went into a precautionary quarantine as a family member had COVID-19 symptoms. Gamble is under federal investigation as part of a broader corruption probe headed by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department. 

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry took Gamble's place at the event.

Biden had "talked the talk" and "walked the walk" on auto jobs, Curry said.

The Biden event was protested by about 30 Trump supporters, who chanted “Don’t sell America out” and “UAW for Trump.” They decried a potential Biden presidency as being disastrous for the country.

Jennifer VanSickle, 61, of Mount Clemens held a sign that read: “Fund The Police.” 

“My husband got a really great job under Trump’s economy, and I want him to be able to keep it,” said VanSickle, a housewife. “And I feel if Biden gets in, everything’s going to go down the tubes, everything my family and I worked for, with Biden’s tax strategy.”

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation has reviewed Biden's proposed tax strategies, which it says would include raising individual income taxes and payroll taxes on individuals with incomes above $400,000. The Democrat's plan would raise $3.8 trillion over the next decade, the foundation estimates.  

While Biden wants to tax the wealthy, “those are the people that give out jobs and people who are earning that much, they may not really be earning that much because they have to make payroll, they pay federal taxes, equipment, capital," VanSickle said. "I just feel that Biden’s economy is going to depress the economy.”

Dennis Schnabel, 73, of Shelby Township, said there are more Trump supporters “that are just not coming out and saying it.”

“I think he’s going to win by a landslide,” Schnabel said. “I hope he does because if you look at the Democratic agenda, welcome to socialism and that scares the heck outta me.”

Though fewer in number, Biden supporters who couldn't get into the Warren event held flags for their candidate.

Biden has “the experience, 48 years of experience in government, knows what he’s doing and hopefully can repair our relationships with our allies that are so badly fractured and most of all take over the COVID response, which has been really poor and costing a lot of people their lives,” said Mary Alice Schulte, 55, of Rochester Hill.

The Trump presidency, she said, has been a failure. "I think he’s a very negative person, and I think he’s brought a lot of negativity and division to the country," Schulte said.

She said of the Trump legions who were protesting Biden: “I just think it’s sad because Trump’s not representing their interests.”

Trump will visit Michigan on Thursday night when he will speak at an airport hangar in Freeland near Saginaw.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed.