From the LA Times, By Chris Megerian and Eli Stokols; Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — In a pitch for lifting American workers to prevail in global competition with China, President Biden on Wednesday used his first address to a joint session of Congress to press his case that massive spending on infrastructure, education, technological initiatives and social services will ensure the United States emerges from the coronavirus crisis in a stronger position than before.
The president rooted his proposals in working-class demands for steady paychecks, affordable child care and better schools. But he also framed them as part of a broader struggle between democracies and autocracies, saying the investments are needed to prevent Beijing from supplanting Washington in a position of international leadership.
“We have to prove them wrong,” Biden said. “We have to prove that democracy still works, that our government still works and we can deliver for our people.”
The nationally televised, prime-time speech of just over an hour came as Biden approached the end of his first 100 days in office, a period dominated by his efforts to extend economic relief, expand vaccine distribution and bring an end to the pandemic. Although Biden cautioned that the threat isn’t over, he described the inoculation campaign as “one of the greatest logistical achievements our country has ever seen.”
With nearly one-third of Americans fully vaccinated, Biden has begun to pivot toward an increasingly ambitious agenda that, if successful, would make his presidency among the most transformative in generations.
“America is on the move again,” he said. “Turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity, setback into strength.”
Pandemic restrictions left the president speaking to a relatively sparse gathering of fewer than half the 535 members of Congress in the House chamber, rather than to the usual packed audience of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet officials, military leaders, diplomats and other guests.
Biden began by acknowledging the historic moment represented by the two women behind him on the dais — “Madam Vice President” Kamala Harris and “Madam Speaker” Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) of the House. He was the first president, he noted, to be greeting women in both seats reserved for the two people next in the line of succession to the presidency. “And it’s about time,” he said to applause.
Lawmakers were spaced three or four seats apart, including in the gallery normally reserved for guests. During most years, a handful of members stake out the seats along the center aisle hours in advance to appear on television shaking the president’s hand as he enters. This year, no one was allowed inside until two hours before and each had a seat assigned by the speaker’s office. Only a few were in position to exchange fist bumps with Biden as he entered.
Metal fencing and National Guard troops ringed the Capitol, a reminder of the enhanced security that remains in place months after the Jan. 6 siege by supporters of then-President Trump. Biden described the riot in his speech as “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
“The struggle is far from over,” he said. “The question of whether a democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent.”
Although Biden did not mention Trump by name, he portrayed his predecessor’s tenure — and Trump’s desperate attempt to cling to power despite losing the election — as a dark moment in American history, saying, “We stared into the abyss of insurrection and autocracy.”
Biden’s speech was a landmark moment in a half-century political career, much of which was spent in pursuit of the office he now holds. Having spent nearly four decades as a senator and eight years as vice president, he joked that it was “good to be back” as he began his speech. Once he ended, he appeared reluctant to leave, glad-handing his way through the chamber as he slowly exited.
Biden used the speech to outline what he calls the “American Families Plan,” a just-released $1.8-trillion, 10-year proposal that would increase taxes on the wealthy to expand educational opportunities, provide paid family leave and offer tax credits to reduce the cost of child care. Low- and middle-income families would be eligible for two years of preschool and two years of community college at no cost.
To pay for the proposals, Biden wants to end the favorable tax rate on capital gains from stocks and other assets for people earning at least $1 million per year and to undo Trump’s reduction in the top income tax rate for wealthy Americans, restoring it to 39.6% from 37%.
The sweeping initiative comes on the heels of what the administration calls the “American Jobs Plan,” an array of proposals to repair roads and bridges, expand broadband internet access, replace lead pipes and invest in caregiving programs for the elderly. The total cost is more than $2.25 trillion over eight years, and it would be financed largely by increasing the corporate tax rate, partially reversing a deep cut made by Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress in 2017.
“I’m not out to punish anyone,” he said. “But I will not add to the tax burden of the middle class of this country.”
Biden promoted several ambitious proposals to battle climate change, and he emphasized that efforts to reduce greenhouse gases would also generate economic opportunity. “For too long,” he said, “we have failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”
He directed his remarks to people who “feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that’s rapidly changing.” He vowed that 90% of the jobs created by his proposals wouldn’t require a college degree.
Biden made a populist pitch as he described how the pandemic exacerbated the country’s economic inequality, noting that 20 million workers lost their jobs while billionaires saw their net worth increase collectively by more than $1 trillion. “Trickle-down economics has never worked,” he declared. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out.”
Biden also looked back with a valedictory for the advances during his first months in office against both the pandemic and unemployment.
The U.S. has vaccinated a greater percentage of its population than almost any other country. Nearly 43% of Americans have received at least one dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“Go get vaccinated, America,” Biden said.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered Republicans’ official response, criticizing Biden for doing too little to get schools open amid the pandemic and giving Trump credit for the vaccine program underway.
While Biden “seems like a good man” offering “good words,” Scott said the president failed to make good on his campaign promise to heal the country’s divisions, suggesting that Democrats in Congress “want to go it alone” on policy and dismissing the president’s “so-called family plan” as government overreach.
“The actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart,” Scott said.
Before the speech, House Democrats released their own array of proposals that go beyond Biden’s plan, such as making the enhanced child tax credit permanent. Biden’s proposal would extend the credit through 2025.
Enacting any of this legislation will probably require unanimous Democratic support because the party has slim majorities in the House and Senate.
While congressional Republicans offered a scaled-down infrastructure package last week — an indication there may be room for a compromise — it’s unlikely the White House will win bipartisan support for its sweeping investments in workers and families. That leaves Congress’ so-called reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to sidestep filibuster threats to pass budget-related proposals, as the Democrats’ best shot at making Biden’s latest plan a reality.
Biden wove into his address some personal appeals to bipartisanship. Urging members of Congress to work together to fund more research against cancer, Biden deviated from his prepared remarks to thank Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for naming past legislation in honor of Biden’s son Beau, who died from a brain tumor. “It meant a lot,” Biden said.
He urged lawmakers to pass legislation to change policing practices that is named for George Floyd, whose murder by a police officer ignited nationwide protests, by the first anniversary of his death May 25.
And saying, “I don’t want to become confrontational,” Biden implored Senate Republicans to join in supporting legislation against gun violence, in particular to strengthen background checks of purchasers.
From the Thursday New York Times: Today is President Biden’s 100th day in office, and yesterday he delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress. In his speech, he laid out an agenda that, The Times’s Peter Baker writes, represents “a fundamental reorientation of the role of government not seen since the days of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Roosevelt’s New Deal.” The centerpiece of his address was a plan for some $4 trillion in spending, split into two bills, on top of the $1.9 billion in economic aid already passed earlier in his term.
“Doing nothing is not an option. Look, we can’t be so busy competing with one another that we forget the competition that we have with the rest of the world.”
Although the Democrats’ narrow control of Congress means that they can pass spending bills without Republican support, they also need to keep their own group united. Even before the speech, Biden faced a skeptic in Senator Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat who is a key vote in the upper chamber. The cost of the president’s plans “makes me uncomfortable,” Manchin said. Senator Mark Kelly, the recently elected Democrat from Arizona, added, “We’ve got to get back to managing the size of our debt compared to the size of our economy.”
For their part, Republicans all but rejected the premise of the president’s plans. Senator Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican who gave his party’s official response, put it bluntly: “Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams,” he said, accusing Biden of abandoning compromise.
“There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.”
Biden said that bolstering America’s international competitiveness is a major reason for his ambitious spending plans, invoking China specifically as the country’s biggest rival. In a hawkish tone, he dismissed the belief that he ascribed to President Xi Jinping that “democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies, because it takes too long to get consensus.” And by calling out green infrastructure as crucial to competing with China, he also made a patriotic pitch for climate-linked spending as a way to “buy American products, made in America, to create American jobs” in fast-growing sectors like electric vehicles, batteries and renewable energy.
“I think you should be able to become a billionaire or a millionaire. But pay your fair share.”
Biden made clear he wants to pay for his ambitious plans by taxing the wealthy, including through higher income and capital gains levies. But this met with a mixed reaction even from fellow Democrats: Manchin called the proposed capital gains hike “a heavy lift,” while others, like Senator Jon Tester of Montana, suggested a mix of higher taxes and deficit spending.
Here’s how to spend $4 trillion: The Upshot team compiled a handy pie chart that shows the scale of all the initiatives in Biden’s proposed spending plans, from tax credits to universal prekindergarten, airport upgrades and broadband rollouts. (Be sure to follow the link to see the graphic in its full glory.) As lawmakers pick this over in the next 100 days and beyond, the resulting pie is likely to look a lot different than it does today.
Also from the New York Times: What’s in Biden’s Spending Plan: Free Preschool and National Paid Leave
President Biden’s latest proposal is funded by raising taxes on wealthier Americans, and it is likely to encounter Republican resistance for that reason.
By Annie Karni, April 28, 2021
WASHINGTON — President Biden’s $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan is aimed at bolstering the United States’ social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost of child care and supporting women in the work force.
Like the $2 trillion infrastructure plan that preceded it, Mr. Biden’s latest proposal is funded by raising taxes on wealthier Americans, and it is likely to encounter Republican resistance for that reason.
Here’s a look at parts of the president’s spending proposal:
Free Pre-K and Community College
Mr. Biden’s plan promises universal free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as two years of free community college for young adults.
The plan outlines a $200 billion investment in free universal preschool and another $109 billion over 10 years to make two years of community college free. On top of that, the president is proposing an $85 billion investment in Pell grants, vouchers that low- and moderate-income students use to pay for tuition, fees, books, room and board.
The universal free preschool includes children from affluent families. That follows a model that cities like Washington and New York City have used, but some education experts favor programs targeted to helping low-income children.
Experts call the plan to fund college education the “biggest expansion in federal support for higher education in at least half a century.”
Even though it is broadly popular, free college across 50 states with unique systems and tuition costs, is complicated to carry out. The Biden plan would require states to eliminate tuition for community colleges to receive funding.
The president’s pitch is that a high school diploma is no longer enough to ensure success and that making a federal investment in education will increase earnings long term. During the pandemic, unemployed workers without college credentials are having a much harder time finding jobs.
Funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Mr. Biden’s proposal singles out historically Black colleges and universities, known as H.B.C.U.s, as well as institutions that serve members of Native American tribes and other minority groups, for specific funding.
Addressing racial equity is a theme that runs through Mr. Biden’s agenda, and the 15-page memo outlining his spending plans notes the extent to which historically Black colleges and universities outperform. While they account for only 3 percent of four-year universities, their graduates account for 80 percent of Black judges and half of Black lawyers and doctors. (Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to hold the role, is a graduate of Howard University.)
Mr. Biden’s plan calls for $39 billion over the next decade to fund two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in a four-year program at H.B.C.U.s, or institutions that serve members of Native American tribes or other minority groups.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden promised to invest more than $70 billion in such schools, including $20 billion to build research facilities on their campuses.
Affordable Child Care
Mr. Biden’s plan seeks to invest $225 billion to make child care more affordable and allow parents to stay in the labor force and work outside their homes.
The plan would give child care providers funding to maintain small class sizes and classrooms that can help children with disabilities. It would also cover all child care costs for working families who are struggling. Administration officials did not say exactly who would qualify to have all child care costs covered, only that it would be a sliding scaled based on earnings compared with the state’s median income. Under the plan, families earning 1.5 times their state median income would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care.
The plan also seeks to increase wages of early child care providers, who are by and large women of color who currently earn about $12.24 an hour without any benefits. Mr. Biden’s plan would include a $15 minimum wage for early childhood staff.
National Paid Leave
Mr. Biden is proposing a $225 billion investment over 10 years to cover a nationally mandated 12 weeks of paid parental, family and personal illness leave. The program seeks to provide workers up to $4,000 a month in paid leave, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers.
President Donald J. Trump also called for paid family leave in his State of the Union address last year, the first Republican president to take up what has long been a popular Democratic cause.
In contrast to Mr. Biden’s approach, the Republican-backed proposal only covered leave for parents of babies or newly adopted children under 6, excluding care for sick family members or leave for personal medical problems. It also did not propose a new source of funding to pay for it. Instead, people could dip into their own future federal benefits, and receive smaller benefits later.
Mr. Biden’s plan proposes $45 billion over the next 10 years to combat food insecurity among children.
The program would make permanent a summer food program that allows families eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year access to meals during the summer at the same rates. Mr. Biden’s plan allocates more than $25 billion to make the program permanent and available to all 29 million children who receive free and reduced-priced meals.
The plan also includes $17 billion to expand healthy school meals at high-poverty schools. The proposals would provide free meals to an additional 9.3 million children, about 70 percent of whom are in elementary school.