AP FACT CHECK: Biden distorts bipartisan infrastructure deal

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden overstated the expected employment gains Tuesday in making his pitch for a bipartisan infrastructure proposal that he said would create “millions” of new jobs. That might or might not have resulted from his initial plan, but there’s a smaller one on the table now.

He also suggested that the package to boost roads, bridges and airports could be a solution for flight delays, glossing over recent and bigger problems of labor shortages and bad weather during the busy summer season.

A look at his claims in La Crosse, Wisconsin:

BIDEN: “After months of careful negotiation, of listening, of compromising together … a bipartisan group of senators got together and they forged an agreement to move forward on the key priorities of my American Jobs Plan. … As a result this is a generational investment — a generational investment to modernize our infrastructure, creating millions of good paying jobs. And that’s not coming from me, it’s coming from Wall Street.”

THE FACTS: The bipartisan proposal is not forecast to create “millions” of new jobs, according to Wall Street, but only a fraction of that.

That plan would provide $579 billion in new infrastructure spending and create new jobs by fixing and updating the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and ports, expanding public transit and building half a million electric charging stations. But it is significantly scaled back from Biden’s initial proposal for $2.3 trillion in new spending, which Moody’s Analytics estimated would create roughly 2.6 million jobs over the next decade.

Peter Williams, an analyst at investment bank Evercore ISI, estimates the bipartisan compromise package would create 450,000 to 775,000 jobs, and mostly not until 2025-2026, because infrastructure projects can take years to win approval. He projects the package would increase the economy’s total output 1% in those years.

While Biden and congressional Democrats are aiming to pass the remainder of the president’s proposal in separate legislation, that is meeting Republican resistance and is far from certain. Nor is that what Biden said Tuesday when he asserted the creation of “millions” of jobs just from the bipartisan pact.

The Biden team has previously offered vastly inflated projections of how many jobs his American Jobs Plan is expected to create, initially claiming it would mean 19 million new jobs before his press secretary ultimately corrected the accounting to over 2 million.

BIDEN: “This deal also modernizes our outdated airports, ports and waterways. That means fewer delays that drain so much money from families and from businesses. There’s no good reason why that zero — zero — of the top 25 airports in the world are American.”

THE FACTS: To be clear, modernized airports can only do so much to reduce flight delays. Most delays don’t result from outdated infrastructure.

Flight delays are much more often the fault of airlines themselves, and that trend has been growing for years. More recently, airlines have encountered longer delays due to bad weather and labor shortages as they fail to keep up with high summer demand for travel as pandemic concerns ease in the U.S.

In 2020, for instance, 71% of flight delays were due to circumstances within the airlines’ control, such as crew or baggage loading problems, or because of the previous flight arriving late, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. About 22% were due to a “national aviation system delay,” which does include infrastructure problems, such as not enough terminals, gates or ramps. Extreme weather or security problems accounted for the remaining delays.

A decade prior in 2009, national aviation system problems accounted for a bigger chunk of flight delays, about 31%, compared with 64% due to airline problems.

Delta Air Lines canceled dozens of flights around Thanksgiving last year, when crowds were much smaller, and again around Easter this spring at least partly because of staffing shortages, and Southwest has suffered staffing shortages and technology problems that have led to thousands of delays and hundreds of canceled flights this month. Bad weather, especially thunderstorms in the summer, frequently snarl flights.

This month, American Airlines also said it will cut hundreds of flights over three weeks to avoid overloading its operation. The union representing American’s pilots said company management failed to move quickly enough to retrain 1,600 pilots who were temporarily sidelined last year or replace some of the 1,000 who took early retirement.

That said, a civil engineers report card recently scored aviation infrastructure a dismal D+ due to shortages in capacity.

Yen reported from Austin, Texas, and Koenig from Dallas.

EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.


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