President Joe Biden’s first address to Congress, a capstone of the Democrat’s first 100 days in office, reflected his administration so far: focused on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, free of drama, outwardly solicitous of the Republican Party and closely linked to his ambitious campaign trail proposals, which have the potential to reshape the American government’s relationship with the economy.
The centerpiece of the speech was the rollout of the $1.9 trillion American Families Plan, which would create the first federal paid leave program along with entitlements for child care and pre-kindergarten education, make community college tuition-free and extend a massive child tax credit that would cut child poverty in half. Biden proposed paying for the plan by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
If all of the proposals Biden mentioned in the speech somehow became law, it would amount to a transformation of the social safety net and a massive expansion of educational opportunities in the country, potentially ending a 40-year period in which the focus of presidents was on shrinking the government rather than using it to help the poor and the middle-class.
“My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” Biden said during his speech. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out.”
But some of the ideas Biden mentioned have already died in the Senate, the body that represents his biggest roadblock to legislative success. He called for a $15 minimum wage, a proposal that a half-dozen Democrats essentially voted against earlier this year.
Other proposals, including a plan to comprehensively overhaul the nation’s immigration system, would almost certainly require the elimination of the Senate’s 60-vote requirement for most legislation ― a step the president has so far declined to endorse.
Biden acknowledged that “end[ing] our exhausting war over immigration” might require a piecemeal approach. “If Congress won’t pass my plan, let’s at least pass what we agree on,” he said.
That piecemeal approach would require a rapprochement with congressional Republicans ― many of whom voted only a few months ago to overturn the results of the presidential election and declined to recognize Biden’s victory. As he did during the campaign, Biden invited GOP consultation on his plans.
He mentioned the Republican Party six times in his speech, and all but one mention emphasized how eager the president was to negotiate. The one exception was a call for GOP senators to back universal background checks for gun purchases.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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