WASHINGTON (AFP) - Joe Biden unveiled a US$700 billion (S$976 billion) plan on Thursday (July 10) to create millions of jobs and invest in new technologies in an aggressive challenge to President Donald Trump on economic policy, a critical campaign issue ahead of November's election.
Biden presented the sweeping "Build Back Better" proposal, a contrast to Trump's "America first" agenda, during a speech at a metal works plant in Pennsylvania, a battleground state seen as critical to either candidate's election victory.
The Democratic challenger's manufacturing and innovation plan aims to bring back jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic, and create more than five million new jobs by investing in domestic production and research and shrinking foreign supply chains.
The multi-pronged approach also tightens "Buy America" guidelines, promotes new tax rules including hiking the country's corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent, and supports expanding union access to empower American workers.
"That's what my plan is, to build back better," Biden said in his speech after touring a 101-year-old factory outside Scranton, the blue-collar city where Biden grew up.
The goal, said the former vice president, is "to sharpen America's competitive edge" in new industries like battery technology, artificial intelligence, biotechnologies and clean energy. "That's the future."
Biden said he rejects the "defeatist view" that automation and globalisation will render Americans helpless to retain well-paid union jobs.
"American manufacturing was the functioning arsenal of democracy in World War II, and has to be part of the engine of new prosperity in America now," he said.
Biden's plan to protect American workers underscores a recognition that, despite Trump's poor job approval numbers, voters still see him as stronger than Biden on handling the US economy.
Trump won in 2016 largely on the promise of bringing back lost manufacturing jobs.
But while the president repeatedly invokes American business as a leading force in reviving the economy, Biden's plan relies on the federal government to "bolster American industrial and technological strength." It proposes a US$400 billion investment in domestic product procurement, and US$300 billion for research and development as well as breakthrough technologies including reusable energy and electric vehicles.
"All told, this will be a mobilisation of R&D and procurement investment in ways not seen since the Great Depression and World War II," Biden said.
He also savaged Trump for being woefully unprepared to respond to the coronavirus pandemic which has killed 132,000 Americans so far; failing to adequately address the "deep wound of systemic racism" in the country; and ignoring the plight of working-class families.
"Trump has simply given up," Biden said, adding that America's working families are "paying the price for this administration's incompetence." "He's exactly the wrong person to lead in this moment," according to Biden.
Biden's presentation came as Vice President Mike Pence also visited Pennsylvania, where he hosted a roundtable discussion on reopening America.
The Trump campaign meanwhile accused Biden of aligning with his progressive former presidential rival Bernie Sanders, whose supporters worked with Biden's campaign to unveil joint policy proposals Wednesday that were seen as more liberal than Biden's more moderate original positions.
"Biden's wilful attack on our jobs, our families, and the American way of life will reverse all the gains we've made together and plunge us into economic catastrophe," Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
With polls showing Trump trailing Biden on virtually all issues except the economy, the president has focused his efforts on reopening and reviving businesses ravaged by the pandemic, even as new infections surge.
Biden holds a sizeable 8.8 per cent lead over Trump nationally, according to a RealClearPolitics poll aggregate.
Biden also leads in polling in swing states that Trump won in 2016, including Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.