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President Joe Biden highlights rescue plan for union pensions in Cleveland

President Joe Biden speaks at Max S. Hayes High School in Cleveland.
Nick Castele
/
Ideastream Public Media
President Joe Biden speaks at Max S. Hayes High School in Cleveland on July 6.

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 6 at 7:28 p.m.

In a visit to Cleveland on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said his federal stimulus package was throwing a long-sought lifeline to struggling labor pension plans.

Biden spoke at Max S. Hayes High School, a career training school in Cleveland, in a gym packed with union members. There, the president touted a fund created by the American Rescue Plan Act that will offer as much as $90 billion in grants to multi-employer retirement plans.

A federal agency that insures those plans, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, was projected to go insolvent in 2026. The ARPA funding will keep the pension insurance agency solvent until 2051, according to a government summary.

“Who is the backbone of this country? It’s you, the American worker,” Biden said. “I promised you I’d be the most pro-labor, pro-union, pro-worker president in our history, and there’s another promise I’m going to be keeping as well.”

Before beginning his speech, the president said federal authorities were "closely monitoring and reviewing" the death of 25-year-old Jayland Walker, who was shot about 60 times by Akron police after a car chase June 27. The U.S. Department of Justice would take action if evidence shows violations of federal law, he said.

The president used the event to argue that his stimulus plan had delivered results for workers as the economy bounced back from the coronavirus pandemic, even though inflation is driving up the costs of necessities. He said he was “fighting like hell” to bring costs down, highlighting his call to pause federal gasoline taxes.

Biden criticized Republicans in Congress for opposing the stimulus bill and Democrats’ proposed pension fix, singling out a comment by Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina that “pouring money into a broken system is like pouring money down a rat hole.” The president also took several jabs at former President Donald Trump throughout his speech.

“Who do they think they are? Who do they think you are, for God’s sake?” the president said. “And my predecessor had a chance to act, but he didn’t have a commitment to you or the courage to stand up to his own party to get things done.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown has previously proposed aid to pension benefits through the Butch Lewis Act, named for a late Teamsters leader from Cincinnati. The ARPA measure would stave off cuts to workers’ retirements, he said.

“They bargained for this, they gave up wages today for this pension, and they were going to lose a lot of that pension,” Brown told Ideastream Public Media. “And that’s why Biden is the most pro-worker president in my lifetime.”

Brown, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Rep. Shontel Brown met Biden at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport and spoke before the president at Max Hayes.

Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee in this year’s Senate race, was absent. Instead, he campaigned in southeast Ohio. Ryan — who is attempting to defeat Trump-backed Republican J.D. Vance in a state won twice by the former president — has criticized his own party in TV ads.

In a statement to media, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Paduchik knocked Ryan and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley for not attending Biden’s speech, saying they were “now desperate to hide from Joe Biden and the very failures they supported.”

Biden’s approval rating nationwide is deep underwater, presenting another midterm political challenge for Ohio Democrats in a state that is becoming more Republican.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.