WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is proposing a wide expansion of national government assistance for American children and families on Wednesday as he prepares to make his first address to a joint session of Congress.
Biden plans to lay out details of his $1.8 trillion proposal in a nationally televised speech, being witnessed in person by about 200 socially distanced, mask-wearing lawmakers and key U.S. officials in the House of Representatives chamber. Normally, the crowd for such an address would be 1,600 but is being sharply limited Wednesday night by the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.
The plan features two years of government-paid, pre-kindergarten education for the country’s youths and two years of free community college for young adults, all of it to be paid for with higher taxes on the country’s wealthiest people.
In addition, Biden’s proposal calls for $225 billion in child-care assistance for U.S. families and monthly payments of at least $250 to parents, a heretofore unknown U.S. social safety net.
In advance of the speech, the White House called the spending plans for families and education, as well as a previous call for $2.3 trillion in infrastructure funding, “once-in-a-generation investments in our nation’s future.”
It is spending, if approved by Congress, that would usher in a much bigger national government footprint in American life, way more than most Republican lawmakers would like but not go as far as some progressive Democrats say they envision.
“President Biden knows a strong middle class is the backbone of America,” the White House said. “He knows it should be easier for American families to break into the middle class, and easier to stay in the middle class.”
“Unlike in past decades,” the White House concluded, “policies to make life easier for American families must focus on bringing everyone along: inclusive of gender, race, or place of residence – urban, suburban, or rural.”
Whether Biden’s spending plans have any chance of enactment is an open question in Washington.
Biden, a Democrat who took office January 20, won approval for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package without the support of a single vote from opposition Republican lawmakers, relying totally on the narrow Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Already, Republicans are attacking his infrastructure and family spending plans as too costly and assailing Biden’s plans to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthiest of Americans. Under Biden’s prescription, those who earn more than $400,000 annually would have to pay higher federal income taxes and those earning more than $1 million annually would pay much higher taxes on their profits when they sell stock investments.
The Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said Tuesday that Biden’s three-plus-month presidency “can best be described as the Biden bait and switch.”
“President Biden ran as a moderate, but I’m hard pressed to think of anything at all that he’s done so far that would indicate some degree of moderation,” McConnell said.
National surveys this week show Biden with an average approval rating of 53%, according to a polling aggregator, Real Clear Politics.
Biden will be speaking from the same dais in the House chamber that insurrectionists overtook on January 6 as supporters of his predecessor, Donald Trump, stormed past law enforcement officers into the U.S. Capitol, in an effort to block Biden’s official certification as the winner of last November’s election over Trump.
White House officials say Biden, the country’s 46th president and at 78 its oldest, is likely to refer to the attack on the Capitol that left five people dead. More than 400 people were arrested on various charges.
The Capitol is now heavily guarded and still surrounded by black fencing, although some National Guard troops who were guarding the perimeter have returned home.
In his speech, Biden is also likely to tout his early success in getting Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus, with more than 200 million shots already administered even as the death toll has risen to a world-leading total of more than 573,000. U.S. health officials eased mask-wearing suggestions this week, but millions of Americans are refusing, for various reasons, to get inoculated, or skipping the second shot of a two-dose regimen.
In addition to discussing his plans for domestic spending, Biden is expected to discuss his goal of engaging with other nations and taking a leadership role on the world stage, a contrast from Trump who often touted his “America First” stance and withdrew from international pacts that he viewed as poorly crafted or too costly for the United States.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden’s comments on foreign policy would include “taking America’s seat back in the world, what our values are as a country.” She said the president would likely talk about a number of foreign policy priorities, “including our engagement with China.”
The Biden administration’s push to work more closely with allies included this month’s coordination with fellow NATO members on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the longest U.S. war started to fight terrorists who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. On his first day in office, Biden rejoined the Paris climate change pact.