- President Joe Biden delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
- Biden called for an ambitious pandemic economic recovery plan focused on jobs, infrastructure, and childcare.
- He also called for changes to immigration and foreign policy and asked the Senate to pass civil rights legislation.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, on the eve of his 100th day in office.
In his address before a pared-down audience due to the pandemic, Biden called for an ambitious economic recovery plan focused on jobs, infrastructure, childcare, and education. The proposals are some of the most progressive in decades – and ones unlikely to garner Republican support, as evidenced by GOP reactions in the chamber and on Twitter.
Democrats hold the House but their majority in the Senate comes down to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. The GOP is unlikely to pass legislation that contributes to the deficit – but also may not be willing to undo former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts in order to pay for broader government spending.
But tonight, those looming legislative battles were in the background as Biden unveiled his sweeping plans.
In his speech, Biden also called for changes to immigration and foreign policy and asked the Senate to pass signature civil rights legislation – including police reform and voting rights legislation.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the speech.
Biden is betting big with major spending plans
Biden detailed an ambitious $4 trillion spending program focused on overhauling the American economy and recasting the role of government to better secure the welfare of families. A large part of the address was spent on the economy and its recovery from the pandemic.
He’s fresh off the passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus law in March, a measure broadly popular with American voters in part due to the $1,400 direct payments. He touted the federal checks and said the law contributed to a fall in hunger.
Biden quickly pivoted to his latest pair of economic plans, one to upgrade physical infrastructure and the other meant to level the playing field for middle and low-income families. The latest is a $1.8 trillion economic package unveiled Wednesday aimed at setting up sweeping new federal programs in education, childcare, and healthcare.
“These are the investments we make together, as one country, and that only government can make,” Biden said. “Time and again, they propel us into the future.”
Biden doubled down on his promise not to raise taxes for Americans earning under $400,000 a year. Instead, he wants large firms and the rich to bear the brunt of tax increases. “It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share,” he said.
Biden is following in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, with his tax pledge. In 2008, Obama said he would spare families making below $250,000 from tax hikes.
Republicans are very unlikely to support the newest “American Families Plan” proposal. “There are individual components that conservatives might be more supportive, but the full $2 trillion package, financed by big new taxes, is absolutely a non-starter for Republicans,” Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, said.
The president also wants Congress to move on healthcare reform and raise the minimum wage
Biden urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t budged from $7.25 an hour since 2009. “No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line,” he said.
Democrats are supportive of raising the minimum wage but sharply disagree on the amount. Some like Sen. Bernie Sanders are pushing $15 an hour minimum wage, though others like Sen. Joe Manchin back a lower level like $11 an hour. It’s unclear whether Democrats will be successful in lifting hourly wages, given it will likely have to be a bill that attracts GOP votes.
Biden also called lawmakers to step in and lower prescription drug costs, an initiative reportedly scrapped from his second economic package. “Let’s do what we’ve always talked about,” the president said. “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs. ”
He’s proposed extending health insurance subsidies for the Affordable Care Act as part of his spending programs. He rejected pressure from progressives to lower the Medicare eligibility age, though he pledged to do so in his campaign.
He also threw his support behind the PRO Act, a bill to make it easier for workers to unionize. That has stalled in the Senate, unable to cross the 60-vote threshold known as the filibuster.
Biden talks immigration – but not the border
Biden also again called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, stressing the need to provide a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented people in the United States – stressing that this was a bipartisan goal.
“Let’s end our exhausting war over immigration,” he said. “For more than 30 years, politicians have talked about immigration reform and done nothing about it. It’s time to fix it.”
The day he took office, Biden unveiled a proposal that would grant permanent residency to many migrant farm workers and citizenship for those who came to the US as children. On Wednesday, Biden said Congress should work to make those specific provisions law right away, acknowledging the difficulty of passing more robust reform in a 50-50 Senate.
“Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the Dreamers – the young people who have only known America as their home,” he said. He also called for legislation to grant “permanent protections for immigrants on temporary protected status” and a process for granting citizenship to “farmworkers who put food on our tables.”
Biden did not, however, speak to the current status of US borders, which remain shuttered to all but unaccompanied minors – a recent influx of whom overwhelmed authorities, who have since scrambled to convert hotels and convention centers into holding facilities. The Biden administration continues to expel other asylum-seekers fleeing poverty and violence in the Americas, citing the pandemic and the need to rebuild a processing system decimated by the last White House.
Biden laid out a foreign policy plan that differs from the Trump doctrine
During his address, Biden’s focus on foreign policy centered mainly around strengthening the US’ relationship with allies and forging working but stern relations with Russia and China.
Biden said that in approaching foreign policy, his administration would operate on the belief that, “America is the most unique idea in history.”
In a contrast to Trump, Biden directly charged Russia for interference in the 2016 elections as well as the recent SolarWinds cyberattacks which breached government and private business systems.
The President added that in conversations with his Russian counterpart, he has “made clear,” to Vladimir Putin that the US will not seek escalation, but Russia’s, “actions will have consequences.” Biden added that the US and Russian should cooperate when interests are aligned.
Biden added that he had held hours-long conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping and put forth a similar balance. The President also singled out Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs, describing them as threats, but committed to working with allies and both nations through “diplomacy and stern deterrence.”
He also spoke about his promise to end the “forever war in Afghanistan,” acknowledging and justifying the US’ long footprint in the country. Saying that the US fulfilled their promise to bring Osama Bin Laden to the “gates of hell,” and that soldiers are serving in “the same war zone as their parents,” he said it’s time to bring troops home.
Biden addressed gun control policy and urged congressional action against gun violence in the US
During his address to Congress, the president called gun violence an “epidemic in America,” mentioning how the flag at the White House flew half-staff to mourn the lives lost at the Atlanta-area shootings and mass shooting in Colorado.
“In the week between those mass shootings, more than 250 other Americans were shot dead. 250 shot dead,” Biden said.
He touted his executive actions on guns following those tragedies but called for the Senate to act.
Biden called upon Senate Republicans to join Democratic members of Congress to “close loopholes and require background checks to purchase a gun” – such as the “boyfriend” loophole, which refers to a gap in gun legislation that allows partners convicted of domestic violence to purchase a firearm if their partner was not a spouse, didn’t have children with them, or live with them at any point.”
“I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence,” he said. “But it’s time for Congress to act as well.”
The president called on the Senate to pass two pieces of civil rights legislation
Biden recalled meeting Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, during her father’s funeral last year, saying how she was right in saying her father “changed the world” in light of the guilty verdict of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s killing.
While he recognized that “most men and women in uniform wear their badge and serve their communities honorably,” the president urged Americans to come together to “rebuild trust between law enforcement and the people they serve” and “root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system.”
He urged lawmakers to pass the police reform bill named after Floyd by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25.
The president also cajoled the Senate to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which has already passed in the House.