President Joe Biden took to the stage at Mount St. Joseph University at 8 p.m. Wednesday before an intimate audience comprised of hand-selected, loyal Democrats and disgruntled Republicans to run the gamut of issues from the surge of the Delta strain of COVID-19 and the proposed federal infrastructure bill to economic issues such as inflation concerns and one restaurant owners’ inability to find workers.
Biden singled out those in their 20s and 30s as well as skeptics in poor, minority communities to get immunized. “We have a pandemic (among) those who haven’t gotten the vaccine,” He noted his administration has stepped up efforts with ads featuring prominent athletes and entertainers urging reluctant Americans to get jabbed.
The President downplayed the risk that massive federal spending has played in igniting inflation. “The good news is the economy is picking up significantly,” he said. “… Prices are up now but it will not be long term.”
Mike Gibbons, a Cleveland businessman and GOP candidate to running to replace retiring U.S. Senator Rob Portman, said unchecked federal spending from Congress and Biden has fueled inflation, which he called a “hidden tax” on Ohioans.
“Families and businesses alike are negatively impacted by rising prices,” Gibbons said in the statement sent to The Ohio Star. “And it will have damaging consequences on our economy for years to come.”
In an answer to another economic question, Biden told an owner of numerous restaurants he will have to pay higher wages to attract workers back after the devastating shutdown and occupancy restrictions in place during the depths of the global COVID crisis. He did not acknowledge the inflationary aspects to raising raises wages, even at $15 per hour.
“People are looking to change what they were doing,” Biden said of the workforce that shrank during the depths of the health restrictions, shrugging off suggestions ongoing federal payments to the unemployed discouraged workers to return.
J.D. Vance, a tech investor also running for the GOP nomination to replace Portman, called Biden’s unbridled spending “a disaster” for the restaurant industry. “Inflation drives up the cost of goods,” Vance said in a news release late Wednesday, “And many businesses can’t find good employees.”
He added, “Instead of acknowledging that his (economic) policies have made these problems worse, Biden comes to Cincinnati and insults the entire restaurant industry.”
A bridge to Kentucky
Biden expressed optimism $1.2 trillion in spending will get Senate approval despite a failed procedural vote earlier in the day. Republicans want a mechanism to fully pay for the plan even as Democrats push for a separate, $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” spending bill. He lauded the efforts of Sen. Portman, who has served as a chief GOP negotiator on the infrastructure bill.
He punctuated the need for the infrastructure bill as he referenced the need to repair and improve the Brent Spence Bridge carrying traffic between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky on Interstates 71 and 75. That bridge carries twice the 80,000-vehicle capacity it was designed for. Repairs continue on the bridge since mid-November, after a fiery crash between two semis that shut the bridge down for 41 days. Those repairs have further congested traffic through the Tri-state.
“We need to fix that bridge going into Kentucky,” Biden said, to widespread applause from the town hall audience.
Vance actually referenced the tired bridge in a statement sent out to media outlets prior to the town hall event.
“Democrats are busy playing politics with a so-called ‘infrastructure’ bill that has more to do with funding the radical left’s pet projects than fixing our roads and bridges,” the statement read.
Jane Timken, the former Ohio GOP chairwoman who is another candidate vying for the Portman seat, echoed Vance’s rhetoric. “Biden [talked] about infrastructure a deal he has continuously mishandled, moved the goalposts, and acted in bad faith by prioritizing socialist agenda items over the needs of communities.”
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Brian Ball is a reporter for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send tips to [email protected]