In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Biden laid out ambitious economic and infrastructure plans focusing heavily on jobs, education, and social care, calling it a “once in a generation investment in America itself”. Flanked by two powerful women, Vice-President Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold that office, and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Biden highlighted this historical moment before presenting his vision on how to get America back on track after a year or so of the coronavirus pandemic.
Buoyed by his consistent and positive approval ratings and speaking on the eve of his first 100 days in office, Biden began by highlighting some of his administration’s achievements. The first and most obvious accomplishment was the successful rollout of the vaccine, administering more than 200 million shots in less than 100 days, and his successful implementation of the $1.9tn coronavirus stimulus package that included direct checks to most Americans.
However, he wouldn’t stop there as he highlighted the hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been created since he first sat in the Oval Office and a steadily growing economy. He also added that he had recently passed funding that will help cut child poverty in the US in half. When it came to discussing plans for America’s economic future, he presented his ambitious American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.
Describing the American Jobs Plan as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America” by boosting investment in public transport, high-speed broadband, roads, and bridges, all while keeping one eye firmly fixed on the fight against climate change, suggesting that as America moves towards a greener future, job creation can play a massive part in that.
As for the proposed $1.8tn American Families Plan, he wants to heavily focus on children, stating that the plan would provide free pre-school for children aged three to four, paid family and medical leave as well as health insurance subsidies, tuition-free community college for all and an extension of key tax breaks that have been expanded during the pandemic.
The president stated that both proposals would be funded by tax raises on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, adding that “It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1%… to pay their fair share,” He then went on to address gun control, immigration, criminal justice reform and voting rights, urging Congress to have the “courage” to craft decisive legislation to tackle these contentious issues.
The events of January 6 would also play an important role in the latter part of the president’s speech as he called the insurrection at the Capitol “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Adding that the Capitol riot was ‘an existential crisis’ and a ‘test of whether our democracy could survive,’ which he concluded it did, barely. He also addressed the issue of white supremacy, warning that it ‘represents the most lethal threat to the US homeland’. This being especially relevant as intelligence suggested that some militia groups were planning to blow up the complex during the joint address.
After pitching these sweeping proposals and how his administration plans to fund them, he of course had to add the obligatory ‘reaching across the aisle’ statement, calling for politicians from both parties to back his plans and said he was willing to work with both sides. However, the 78 year old is far too long in the political tooth to believe his calls for unity would be met with anything other than incredulity, and sadly, he was correct.
Some Republican’s even went so far as to add insult to the incredulity, such as Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who not only suggested that Biden’s first 100 days were “an unqualified failure,” but was quick to add that the president’s call for unity was an outright lie as, according to McDaniel, “our nation is worse-off and more divided thanks to Joe Biden.”
The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, decided to take a more Trumpian approach to address Biden’s speech by taking to Twitter to write “This whole thing could have just been an email.” Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator and a possible contender for the White House in 2024, called the proposals a “liberal wish list of big government waste”.
It wasn’t just Republicans who balked at the size and scope of Biden’s proposals, some Democrats showed equal concern. However, Biden is pitching these ideas as generational investments and ones that will hopefully appeal to the widest spectrum of the American electorate by adding that these investments ‘ would strengthen America’s economic power and ensure that more products were made in the US.’
Despite the many sweeping proposals President Biden outlined in his speech, one single word seems worthy of note, the word ‘we’. And his speech was replete with ‘we’, unlike the address from his predecessor who would consistently and repeatedly talk about ‘me’. Biden may have a battle on his hands to push through the plans and legislation he laid out in his speech but there is undoubtedly a sense of irony as the president’s speech was littered with proposals that really do seem to be putting ‘America first.’