President’s proposals include an American Families Plan, which calls for $1.8 trillion for child care, education and paid leave
By Catherine Lucey and Sabrina Siddiqui – The Wall Street Journal.
WASHINGTON—President Biden declared “America is ready for a takeoff” as he pitched a sweeping vision for greater government investment to boost the economy, including a $1.8 trillion proposal for new spending on child care, education and paid leave.
Addressing a joint session of Congress for the first time as president on Wednesday, Mr. Biden sought to strike a hopeful tone just ahead of his 100th day in office, stressing his efforts to combat the pandemic, expand Covid-19 vaccinations—which he urged all Americans to get—and spur economic growth.
“America is moving. Moving forward. And we can’t stop now,” he said, in remarks that ran just over an hour. “We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century.”
The prime-time address looked different this year under pandemic restrictions, with a small group of masked attendees, no in-person guests hosted by the first lady and more muted applause. Mr. Biden used the moment to sell lawmakers and the public on his economic proposals, including his new American Families Plan, as well as renew his support for a long list of Democratic priorities, including passing legislation on policing, gun control and immigration.
“We have to prove democracy still works. That our government still works and we can deliver for our people,” said Mr. Biden. He appealed to Republicans to work with him. GOP lawmakers have largely opposed his economic agenda, saying he has proposed too much government spending and that his tax plans could hurt the economy.
Taken together, the Democratic president’s proposals represent an ambitious effort to redefine the government’s role in shaping the economy. Betting that government can be a driving force for growth, the White House is shifting away from long-held assumptions within both parties that the public sector is inherently less efficient than the private and that policy makers should generally defer to markets.
Mr. Biden highlighted the American Families Plan, which is paid for largely by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that includes new spending on bridges, roads and broadband internet. Mr. Biden cast the massive spending proposals as necessary to help the nation’s economy and workers.
Referring to the family policies, Mr. Biden said it was time to make a “once in a generation investment in our families and our children.”
He said the U.S. had used public spending on things like schools and space exploration to accomplish great things in the past.
“These are investments we made together as one country and investments that only the government was in a position to make,” he said. “Time and again, they propel us into the future.”
To pay for all of his proposals, Mr. Biden would raise the top income-tax and capital-gains rates, boost taxes on companies and rely on an expanded Internal Revenue Service to audit and collect more money.
Mr. Biden stressed his campaign pledge that people making less than $400,000 wouldn’t pay more in taxes, but he said that it was time for companies and the wealthiest Americans to “pay their fair share.”
The president has attended numerous such addresses as both a U.S. senator and vice president at a Capitol, which is still under heavy security following the storming of the building on Jan. 6.
Mr. Biden noted that violence, calling it “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
The president’s speech marked the first time in the nation’s history that both officeholders flanking the president on the dais were women: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).
Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) delivered the Republican rebuttal to the president’s address. The only Black Republican in the Senate, Mr. Scott is considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate.
Mr. Scott called Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal a “liberal wish list of government waste.” He also said the president hasn’t lived up to his promises to bring the nation together.
“Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you, the American people,” he said.
In a direct appeal to Republicans, Mr. Biden argued that jobs and infrastructure were bipartisan issues and thanked those Republicans who have offered a counterproposal on infrastructure. “Let’s get to work,” he said.
He also urged Congress to “end our exhausting war over immigration,” pushing for comprehensive changes to immigration laws amid a surge of migrants at the border.
Mr. Biden drew swift praise from Democrats, among them Mrs. Pelosi, who said he offered a “unifying message of resilience, resolve and hope.”
The president also called for Congress to back a slew of Democratic priorities, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, closing the gender pay gap and strengthening worker bargaining rights. He called for expanding access to healthcare and reducing prescription drug prices.
Following a series of mass shootings, Mr. Biden urged Congress to take action on gun control. And he asked lawmakers to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, a Black man whose killing set off a wave of protests last year, by the anniversary of his May 25 death.
“We’ve all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans,” Mr. Biden said. “We have a giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, was approved by the Democratic-led House in March on a party-line vote. But it faces obstacles in the Senate, where Republicans oppose a provision that would make it easier to bring civil lawsuits against police officers. Mr. Scott, who has led GOP talks on the issue, said he has “extended an olive branch” to Democrats on overhauling policing, but they have blocked his efforts.
Mr. Biden acknowledged tensions with Russia and China, but said the U.S. should seek opportunities to cooperate on issues of mutual interest.
Mr. Biden said he had conveyed to Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. was “not looking for conflict,” even as he vowed to hold Beijing accountable on human rights and unfair trade practices. The president characterized his approach toward Russia in similar terms, expressing his desire to avoid escalation, while warning Moscow against actions that could risk further sanctions. His administration is preparing for a possible summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer.
He also defended his plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
“After 20 years of value, valor and sacrifice, it’s time to bring those troops home,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden’s proposals will be tested in Congress, where Democrats hold thin majorities and the party’s moderates and progressives aren’t always aligned. If Republicans oppose his efforts in the Senate, Democrats would likely need to use a budget maneuver called reconciliation to advance the measure with a simple majority. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) indicated Wednesday that reconciliation was an option for the new proposals. That still requires Democrats to remain united in the chamber, which is split 50-50, with the vice president serving as a tiebreaker.
Mr. Biden’s party will defend its narrow majorities in the 2022 midterms. A once-a-decade reapportionment of seats in the House of Representatives is expected to favor Republicans because red-leaning states are gaining more seats on net.
The White House said the new families proposal includes $1 trillion in new spending over 10 years and $800 billion in tax cuts, largely extensions of breaks created or expanded in this year’s Covid-19 relief law. Mr. Biden is calling for a universal preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of tuition-free community college for all Americans. He would also provide money to make child care more affordable for low- and middle-income families and establish a national paid-leave program for those needing time to care for a child or loved one or to recover from illness, among other reasons.
To pay for the new programs, the administration proposes raising the top income-tax rate to 39.6% from 37%. For households making more than $1 million, Mr. Biden would also raise the top rate on capital-gains and dividends to 39.6% from 20%. Including existing payroll and investment taxes—each 3.8%—the top rates on wages and capital gains would reach 43.4%, up from 23.8%. He would expand the 3.8% tax to some new types of income.
Mr. Biden would also adjust how capital gains are taxed at death. And the plan relies on $700 billion in revenue that the administration says would come from an expansion of the IRS that has shrunk after a decade of budget cuts.
The president plans to hit the road to promote his plans following the speech. He will be in Atlanta Thursday for a car rally and on Friday will go to Philadelphia for an event marking Amtrak’s 50th anniversary. During his trip to Georgia, Mr. Biden and Dr. Biden will travel to Plains to meet with former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter.
Featured article licensed from the Wall Street Journal.