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 that “China and other countries are closing in fast” in a global competition with the United States. He said he told the president of China, Xi Jinping, that he would “defend American interests across the board,” and he urged lawmakers not to give in to gridlock.
“The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us,” Mr. Biden said. “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.
President Biden kicked off his address to a joint session of Congress with a string of words that no American president has ever said before: “Madam Vice President and Madam Speaker.”
For the first time, the president is delivering his speech while standing in front of two women — Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. While Ms. Pelosi has spent several State of the Union addresses sitting on the podium behind the president, this is Ms. Harris’s first time.
The two women greeted each other with a friendly elbow bump before the president arrived.
For an event that is wrapped up in pomp and circumstance, the images from such nights can leave a lasting impression. And this tableau — a visual representation that the first and second in line of presidential succession are both women — depicts the progression of women in American politics.
Hours before the speech, when asked on MSNBC about the historic moment, Ms. Pelosi said that while it’s “exciting” it’s also “about time.”
President Biden is a man with a plan. Three plans, actually.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden announced the third blockbuster domestic funding proposal of his presidency, hours before his first speech before a joint session of Congress. Mr. Biden’s plans add up to about $6 trillion and reflect an ambition to restore the federal government to the role it played during the New Deal and Great Society.
Here is what the plans — one passed and two pending — would do.
Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, passed in the Senate by a 50-to-49, party-line vote in March, was a sequel to the $2.2 trillion pandemic relief bill enacted during the Trump administration a year ago.
The centerpiece of the bill was a one-time direct payment of up to $1,400 for hundreds of millions of Americans, along with a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits through the summer, and money for distributing vaccines.
It included $350 billion in emergency funding for localities — $195 billion for states, $130 billion for local governments, $20 billion for tribal governments and $4.5 billion for territories.
But it was also aimed at reducing long-term poverty. The plan provides $21.6 billion for federally subsidized housing, an enormous infusion of cash into a long-stagnant sector, with billions in emergency rental assistance and longer-term capital projects.
Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, unveiled on March 31, includes $621 billion for transportation projects, including bridges, roads, mass transit, ports, airports and electric vehicle development.
It would also funnel $111 billion into improving drinking-water infrastructure, and provide billions more for expanding broadband access and upgrading electric grids.
It adds $20 billion worth of tax credits for the construction and renovation of 500,000 units of affordable housing, an additional $40 billion for public housing capital improvements, and $100 billion for building and upgrading public schools.
About $300 billion is slated for assisting manufacturers and small businesses, and improving access to capital and investment in clean energy, along with $100 billion for work force development.
The most transformational and polarizing element of the plan is $400 billion for “home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities” — an attempt by Mr. Biden to expand the definition of infrastructure to include the fast-growing network of workers responsible for caring for the country’s aging population.
How he would pay for it: raising the corporate tax rate, which Republicans have cut in recent years, to 28 percent from 21 percent and forcing multinational corporations to pay significantly more in taxes.
The Biden administration on Wednesday detailed a collection of spending increases and tax cuts that seeks to expand access to education, reduce the cost of child care and support women in the work force.
While some details remain vague, the plan includes $1 trillion in new spending and $800 billion in tax credits.
It includes a $225 billion investment in federally subsidized child care and a paid family and medical leave program that will cost about $225 billion over the next decade as well as a $200 billion reduction in premiums for people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act.
It would also provide $200 billion in new education funding that would include free universal preschool for 5 million children in low-income and working-class families. In addition, Mr. Biden is also requesting funding for two free years of community college education to all Americans, including young immigrants known as the Dreamers.
How he would pay for it: The plan includes $80 billion in enhancements to the I.R.S., which the administration estimates could raise $700 billion from high earners and corporations that evade taxes.
Mr. Biden also wants to increase the marginal income tax rate for the top 1 percent of American income earners, to 39.6 percent from 37 percent and raise capital gains and dividend tax rates for those who earn more than $1 million a year.
President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda might have seemed unthinkable as the United States was emerging from its last recession, when austerity politics still ruled the Capitol and even a Democratic president was reluctant to push huge tax increases on corporations and the rich.
But Mr. Biden has a significant chance of signing at least a large chunk of his plans into law this year, partly because of a pandemic that reminded many Americans that big government could deliver money to help sustain them and speed efforts to end the crisis faster.
What the president is promising from the government in the years to come is a long list of tangible improvements in Americans’ daily lives. Those sweeping spending plans, which Mr. Biden was set to make the centerpiece of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, would be paid for by raising $4 trillion in tax revenue from high earners and corporations.
While Republicans have begun complaining about that price tag, they have yet to galvanize a public backlash like the Tea Party movement that engulfed President Barack Obama’s administration.
Analysts say there is an obvious difference this time: Before Mr. Obama entered the White House, lawmakers approved a nearly $1 trillion effort to bail out Wall Street. Before Mr. Biden took office, Washington was sending money to nearly every person in the country — and those people noticed.
“This is what happens when government actually works for people: There’s no backlash,” said Jon Lieber, a managing director for the Eurasia Group in Washington who was a former aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “The dynamic is so different now, because the response during the crisis was more populist, more people-focused.”
Mr. Biden was set to echo that sentiment in his speech, according to excepts the White House released in advance on Wednesday afternoon.
There are more than five million students enrolled at the nation’s 1,000 community colleges, and President Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan could give many of them a considerably strengthened line to the middle class.
The plan, which Mr. Biden is expected to lay out Wednesday night in his first address to a joint session of Congress, calls for community college to be free for all Americans. Proponents of the idea say it would relieve some of the burdens on low-income and working-class college students, many of whom struggle to cover tuition while also paying for rent, food and other basic needs.
But critics question whether it makes sense to give public two-year colleges so much federal funding, saying that many low-income students perform better at four-year universities. Others point out that community college is already free or low cost in many states.
Mr. Biden’s higher education proposal includes more than $300 billion in expenditures aimed primarily at community college students and people attending historically Black colleges and universities, and would be funded in part by increased taxes on the wealthy.
After President Biden delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening, the task of pushing back against the president’s vision will fall to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Mr. Scott, 55, offers a brand of unapologetic conservatism that has helped him rise from a seat on the Charleston County Council to national prominence in the Republican Party. He said on Wednesday that he planned to present an “optimistic” rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s address, one that will underscore the importance of getting children back into classrooms after months of remote learning and attribute a successful vaccination campaign to the Trump administration, according to excerpts from the prepared remarks released ahead of delivery.
“This administration inherited a tide that had already turned,” Mr. Scott plans to say. “The coronavirus is on the run! Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines.”
Mr. Scott will also highlight one of his signature policy initiatives, opportunity zones, which are intended to use tax incentives to draw long-term investment to parts of the nation that continue to struggle with high poverty rates. The zones were part of the $1.5 trillion tax cut that President Trump signed into law in 2017.
More than a decade ago, Mr. Scott raised his profile as a vocal critic of the Obama administration and rode a wave of Tea Party support into Washington, winning a House seat in 2010, and endearing himself to conservative groups with a strong small-government philosophy.
As the sole Black Republican in the Senate, Mr. Scott has also become a pioneering figure within his party, breaking through a number of historical barriers and ascending in an environment that has often been hostile to Black politicians.
In the primary for his first House campaign, Mr. Scott handily defeated Paul Thurmond, son of former Senator Strom Thurmond, who for years helped lead the Republican Party’s resistance to racial integration. And in 2013, when then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Mr. Scott to fill a vacancy left by former Senator James DeMint, he entered the Senate as the first Black politician since Reconstruction to represent a Southern state.
Mr. Scott was tapped to deliver the rebuttal by the Republican leaders — Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California — at a time when the G.O.P. has been eager to bolster its support with people of color. And during his years in the Senate, Mr. Scott has often provided guidance for his colleagues on matters of race.
Most recently, as the debate about police brutality has intensified, Mr. Scott has offered his own candid experiences on the Senate floor of being racially profiled by police. He has also positioned himself as an informed voice on the challenges facing working families, invoking his early years growing up poor with a single working mother.
While many of the policy proposals Mr. Biden is expected to discuss on Wednesday have drawn sharp opposition from Republicans, Mr. Scott has said he does not intend his rebuttal to be an excoriation of the president’s agenda akin to the highly charged rhetoric that has become common on Capitol Hill.
“We face serious challenges on multiple fronts, but I am as confident as I have ever been in the promise and potential of America,” Mr. Scott said in a statement previewing his remarks. “I look forward to having an honest conversation with the American people and sharing Republicans’ optimistic vision for expanding opportunity and empowering working families.”
As President Biden rolls out his far-reaching $1.8 trillion plan to expand access to education and child care, Republicans are not expected to present their own alternative package, instead arguing that such an ambitious expansion of the social safety net is unnecessary and harmful to the economy.
Republicans have tapped Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to deliver their rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, spotlighting the party’s sole Black senator who often leans heavily on his extraordinary biography to argue against large government assistance programs.
Even before the president had outlined his proposal or Mr. Scott had responded, Republicans rejected Mr. Biden’s plan, which is to be financed largely by tax increases on high earners and corporations, protesting the notion of reversing a sweeping collection of tax cuts they pushed through in 2017 under former President Donald J. Trump.
“What this would do is incentivize women to rely on the federal government to organize their lives,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said in an appearance on Fox Business on Wednesday, calling the president’s proposal an “anti-family plan” that would lead to higher taxes. “It takes away from them the ability to organize their family life as they would like to organize it.”
While Republicans last week introduced their own, significantly slimmed down answer to Mr. Biden’s sprawling infrastructure package, offering a $568 billion counterproposal that Democrats dismissed as inadequate, they have not offered their own version of an education and child care bill. Some individual senators have introduced significantly narrower pieces of legislation designed to aid families.
Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah in 2019 introduced a paid parental leave plan. Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri have both argued in favor of expanding the child tax credit to provide all but the wealthiest families with regular monthly checks. But those efforts have been largely driven by individual senators and have faced resistance from other Republicans, some of whom have chafed at any measures that might resemble “welfare assistance.” They have yet to win the imprimatur of the party’s leaders.
Mr. Romney expressed skepticism on Wednesday about the total cost of Mr. Biden’s package of economic proposals, calling it “a massive amount of spending.”
“Maybe if he were younger, I’d say his dad needs to take away the credit card,” Mr. Romney said to reporters.
Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, took to the Senate floor to accuse Mr. Biden of pushing unnecessary “partisan policies.”
“When you think about infrastructure, you think about roads, you think about bridges, you think about broadband,” Mr. Tillis said. “You don’t think about human infrastructure, but that’s what’s being pitched today. And it’s being pitched on a partisan basis, without even attempting to get a single Republican vote.”
A prompt counterproposal is unlikely to come from the House either. Top Republicans in that chamber selected members earlier this week to begin drafting a broad array of legislation on jobs and the economy, “the future of American freedoms” and other issues that are expected to shape their agenda leading up to the midterm elections.
President Biden on Wednesday invited the top Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to meet with him at the White House for the first time next month as he seeks to move his ambitious plans though Congress, according two officials familiar with the matter.
While Mr. Biden has met regularly with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, the May 12 meeting would mark the first time he has hosted their Republican counterparts, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.
The invitation, which became public hours before Mr. Biden was scheduled to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress, comes at a crucial moment in Mr. Biden’s presidency, as he tries to build support for $4 trillion in new spending to boost the economy, close racial disparities and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. But Republicans are increasingly portraying him to voters as a radical liberal who despite campaign promises, is unwilling to compromise across the aisle.
The White House did not immediately make clear its agenda for the meeting.
Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, an old friend, have spoken multiple times by phone since he became president. Mr. McCarthy has repeatedly requested to meet with Mr. Biden to discuss the influx of migrants at the southwestern border, but the two have not spoken.
Mr. Biden has been more free with invitations to rank-and-file Republicans — especially moderates who he had hoped might support his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan or his upcoming jobs package. So far, none have given him their support.