President Joe Biden pledged Wednesday to replace all 400,000 lead service lines in Chicago, saying Mayor Lori Lightfoot had urged him to make it a high priority.
The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill approved in November 2021 includes $15 billion to fund lead service line replacement efforts and $3 billion is set to flow to states and cities in 2022. A Biden administration plan calls for all of the lead service lines to be removed in a decade. That would cost $45 billion.
Biden told the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers international convention that he was committed to removing the pipes — with union labor.
“Mayor (Lori) Lightfoot talked about how Chicago has lead service pipes, more lead service pipes for drinking water than any city in America, affecting nearly 400,000 Chicago homes,” Biden said. “And guess what? That lead causes brain damage, particularly to kids, from those pipes. The law is going to fix that, because every American deserves to be able turn on a spigot and drink clean water.”
Despite the shoutout, Lightfoot did not greet the president at O’Hare Airport or attend any of his three events Wednesday. Lightfoot traveled to Texas on Tuesday and will not return until Sunday, according to a statement from her political operation.
Biden devoted much of his 40-minute speech to touting the programs that will be paid for with the infrastructure bill and the success of the $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief bill he passed during his first months in office.
“Now, not only is infrastructure week finally arrived, after four years of the other guy, we can look forward to the infrastructure decade for 10 years,” Biden said to loud cheers. “It is a fact.”
Biden also delivered a stinging rebuke to his political opponents, taking aim at Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott for proposing an 11-point policy platform that the president said would mean tax hikes for millions of Americans.
Biden did not mention former President Donald Trump, who is expected to run for president again in 2024, by name but referred to him as the “great MAGA king.”
The president also touted his support for federal legislation designed to make it easier for workers to organize with labor unions.
Before Biden spoke to the union conference, he traveled to an 800-acre corn, wheat and soybean farm owned by Jeff and Gina O’Connor in Kankakee to tout his plans to reduce inflation and rising food prices by boosting domestic production.
“Right now, America is fighting on two fronts: at home, as inflation and rising prices, and abroad, as helping Ukrainians defending democracy and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist,” said Biden, who shed his suit jacket in the 90-degree heat. “The American farmers understand the war has cut off critical sources of food.”
Biden said he would also expand crop insurance to more farmers who plant two crops in the same year to boost their harvest.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture should double the $250 million the government has invested into fertilizer production as prices soar, Biden said.
A report released early Wednesday by federal officials found the inflation rate changed only slightly between March and April, which may indicate the increase in the cost of living has peaked.
Before heading back to Washington, D.C., Biden attended a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.
After being introduced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Biden said Republicans have a “radical agenda,” but acknowledged that Democrats faced an uphill fight to keep control of the U.S. House and Senate.