The White House official leading negotiations on a massive infrastructure spending bill had a crucial role in pushing through a China trade deal that has been blamed for a "sharp decline" in American manufacturing jobs.
Steve Ricchetti, a close Biden confidant who serves as White House counselor, is "sculpting" details of the bill in White House meetings and with Democratic leaders in Congress, the Washington Post reported. As deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton, Ricchetti helped wrangle votes for a bill that established permanent normal trade relations with China. The legislation opened up trade markets between the United States and China and allowed China to become a member of the World Trade Organization.
Clinton praised Ricchetti at the time for spearheading negotiations with lawmakers. But the bill was criticized by Democrats including then-Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). A 2012 study from two Yale researchers found that permanent normal trade relations led to a "sharp drop" in U.S. manufacturing jobs in the years after it was implemented.
"On the basis of trade alone there is enough reason to oppose PNTR at this time," Pelosi said on April 19, 2000. "China has violated every trade agreement it has made with the U.S. over the last ten years."
Sanders said in a speech in 2005 that the bill had been an "absolute failure" for the United States.
The Normal Trade Relations for the People's Republic of China Act passed both the House and the Senate, with then-Senator Joe Biden voting in favor of it despite opposition within his own party.
Ricchetti has come under scrutiny because of his brother’s lobbying work. Jeff Ricchetti has seen a windfall of new lobbying clients in the months since his brother was tapped by the Biden White House. Executives from two companies that have hired Ricchetti, Amazon and General Motors, have secured meetings at the White House, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Democrats are pushing for $6 trillion in spending on infrastructure projects and various climate change initiatives. The Democratic proposal includes a $2.5 trillion tax hike. Republicans have countered with a proposal to spend nearly $1 trillion on traditional infrastructure projects.