Biden calls for broad spending, pressing Congress to turn ‘peril into possibility’
President Biden called for a broad reshaping of American society Wednesday night, using his first formal address to Congress to urge a vast expansion of safety net and educational programs while promising to harness the government to create jobs and opportunity for those often left behind. On Wednesday evening, Mr. Biden returned to Capitol Hill, where he served for more than three decades as a senator, seeking greater spending to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure by imposing new taxes on businesses and corporations. He urged lawmakers from both parties to embrace a sweeping new vision for public benefits, financed by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“America is moving. Moving forward. And we can’t stop now,” the president said. “We’re in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.”
If he succeeds, Mr. Biden could usher in a new era that fundamentally expands the size and role of the federal government, powered in part by the government’s efforts combating the health and economic crises caused by a pandemic that has killed more than 573,000 people and upended work, recreation and schooling across the country.
The president offered optimism in the face of the pandemic, saying that “America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setbacks into strength.” He said Americans are beating back Covid-19 and he urged everyone to get vaccinated.
“Go get vaccinated, America,” he said to broad applause. “Go and get the vaccination. They are available.”
Mr. Biden said progress against the virus must be followed by dramatic investments to help people who “feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that’s rapidly changing.” He said his spending proposals will generate millions of jobs, describing them as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”
But the president faces a Congress — and a country — that remains deeply divided about how much to increase government spending and who should pay for it. In his speech, Mr. Biden said that the moment of crisis demands a sufficiently bold response from both sides of the political aisle. But he will made clear that he is prepared to act without Republican support if necessary.
Mr. Biden said he welcomes ideas from Republicans, but added: “The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. I just want to be clear. From my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”
Mr. Biden’s address took place against a backdrop that is both familiar and new. Like his predecessors, he delivered it in the House chamber, standing before lawmakers and in front of the House speaker and the vice president. But it was the first time in American history that the two officials behind the president are both women.
Because of the pandemic, Mr. Biden spoke to no more than 200 socially-distanced lawmakers and officials, a fraction of the packed audience that is typically on hand to witness the president’s use of the ultimate bully pulpit. There are no guests of the first lady sitting in the House gallery, though the White House earlier announced five “virtual guests” who officials said “personify some of the issues or policies that will be addressed by the president in his speech.”
The president used his speech to lay out his broader foreign policy and domestic agenda, and planned to describe his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 as a way to make good on his promise to end America’s “forever wars” even as he warned that the United States still faces a range of other threats, according to prepared remarks.
He planned to renew his call for Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system that would provide a pathway to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented people and urge Congress to pass a federal policing overhaul named after George Floyd, who was killed last year by a police officer in Minneapolis.
In prepared remarks, he planned to repeat his call for Congress to pass new laws to tighten background checks on gun purchases and to say global warming demands that the United States take action to prevent climate change.
But Mr. Biden’s focus was on selling his plans for spending that would total more than $6 trillion over the next decade. His proposals include spending $1.8 trillion on universal prekindergarten, federal paid leave, more affordable child care, free community college, and new spending on health care and poverty.
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