May 6, 2021

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President Biden’s speech to Congress: 6 conclusions

President Biden's speech to Congress: 6 conclusions

President Biden closed his first 100 days in office by urging a pandemic-fatigued nation to remain vigilant, but also stressing how far he has come since moving to the White House: Blocks are rising, economic outlook is brightening , a large stimulus package has put money in people’s pockets and created fundamental improvements to the social safety net.

Now comes the more challenging part: using that honeymoon period as a stepping stone to the rest of an expensive and controversial agenda that Biden vows will heal the nation and restore America’s place as a global leader. Many critics have deep reservations about these plans.

In his first speech at a joint session of a disguised and socially distant Congress on Wednesday, Biden charted the course he plots to overcome them.

Some suggestions from Biden’s 65-minute speech:

Go Big or go home

Biden was deliberate in devising a historically ambitious program that would greatly expand the role of the government and rebalance its payers. Its plans include a free community college for all, a universal daycare, an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave for all Americans. He promised his infrastructure project would generate millions of jobs by improving things like transportation networks and water systems and switching the nation to green energy.

The president’s speech for all these expenses – and the tax increases for the rich to cover the bill – was simple. The nation, he said, is at a crossroads, with democracy under unprecedented stress and its future uncertain. He said the recipe for fixing it is a transformative change that pulls millions of Americans out of mountains of debt, economic uncertainty and family tensions. That New Deal-style approach proved to be a hard sell in modern American politics, yet Biden invoked how Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation through an earlier period of deep anxiety.

“In another era where our democracy has been tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us: In America: let’s do our part,” Biden said. “If we do, we will face the central challenge of the time by demonstrating that democracy is enduring and strong. The autocrats will not win the future “.

A new setting, a new tone

Vice President Kamala Harris, left, greets House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before President Biden speaks to Congress.

(POOL / AFP via Getty Images)

The optics of the night reflected how dramatically things have changed in Washington. For the first time in history, two women stood behind the president on stage: Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Their presence has amplified the direction of diversity and inclusion towards which the Democrats aim to lead the nation.

The mask worn and the social distancing in the chamber muffled the usual performative applause and screams from the audience that punctuated previous presidential speeches in Congress. Instead, the setting reflected the gloomy tone of the time, the resilience of a pandemic the nation still struggles to overcome, and a president whose approach to meeting the challenge is more technocratic than theatrical.

“A hundred days ago, the American home was on fire,” Biden said as he began to mark the moves his administration and Congress have made since then. “We had to act.”

Redefine the political “center”

Biden took the stage under fire from Republicans, who brand him as anything but the moderate he claims to be. Most of the initiatives Biden has pushed forward don’t have GOP buy-in, and Congressional Democrats are urgently moving on his agenda as they face the prospect of losing control of Congress mid-term. Republicans weren’t impressed with some of the moves Biden made that bothered the left, such as keeping plans to lower the Medicare eligibility age at bay.

But the measures Biden is promoting share one thing in common: they are widely popular, and not just among Democrats. His administration is taking the approach that voter views matter more than lawmakers’ views and that Biden’s agenda is not radical as long as it impresses voters across partisan lines. Whether the bipartisan appeal can withstand a sustained assault on the agenda by congressional Republicans remains to be seen.

Biden invoked the Jan. 6 uprising urging Republicans to work with him on his plans.

“Can our democracy satisfy the most pressing needs of our people?” He said. “America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t. They believe we are too full of anger, division and anger. They look at the images of the crowd that stormed this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy. “

“They are wrong,” Biden said. “We have to prove that democracy still works. That our government still works and can deliver results for the people. “

Bring the question of black life back into focus

One of the most touching moments of Biden’s early days in the White House was his speech with Harris the night a Minneapolis jury found a former police officer guilty of George Floyd’s murder. Biden has effectively channeled the indignation of millions of Americans at the country’s lack of progress in addressing racial injustice and has forged a bond with the Floyd family.

On Wednesday, the president made it clear that the moment was not a one-time event and that he finds it inconceivable that a year has passed since Floyd’s death and that no major criminal justice reform package has yet been approved. Biden made a mark when his speech turned to racial justice: a significant change in the criminal justice system will be a central theme of his mandate.

“We’ve all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of black Americans,” Biden said. “This is our opportunity to make real progress… The country supports this reform and Congress should act. We have a huge opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. True justice. “

By targeting the rich

Biden’s big projects don’t come cheap. And after the president already signed a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus and COVID-19 aid package in March, critics say the nation can’t afford another round of spending that big. Biden’s answer is clear: target wealthy tax evaders. He said the unpaid taxes would be more than enough if the IRS had the power to go after him. But his plan to spend tens of billions of dollars to increase IRS enforcement is sure to become a target for the GOP, which will seek to tap into taxpayers’ dislike of the agency.

Biden is betting that the Democrats can argue that this is not the average taxpayer, but the millionaires and billionaires who are not paying their fair share. He also promised to raise the tax rates of wealthier Americans – a sharp turnaround from the approach taken by his predecessor, whose tax cuts have overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and corporations. Add it all up, and the money generated would go a long way towards paying for programs – such as universal pre-K and paid family leave – that are popular with a wide range of Americans.

Biden noted that 20 million Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic when 650 billionaires increased their wealth by $ 1 trillion.

“The waterfall economy never worked,” he said. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and the center.”

Immigration is still at the center and in the center

Although Biden struggles to keep campaign votes to treat undocumented migrants more humane, he was steadfast on immigration reform, calling for an end to “our grueling war on immigration.”

“For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and have done nothing about it,” Biden said. “Time to fix it.”

He asked Congress to pass a bill that protects the border and creates a path to citizenship. Biden highlighted the role Harris will play in the effort, which focuses on addressing corruption, violence and hunger in Central America that drives residents to leave. Biden said he did similar work in the Obama era.

“Our plan worked,” Biden said. “But the last administration closed it.”

Biden has asked Congress to approve protection for “Dreamers”, as well as for immigrants who temporarily seek refuge from natural disasters and violence at home. He asked for a “citizenship path for farmers who put food on our tables”.