By Matthew Manosh and Miriam Raftery
Part 2 of our State of the Union coverage
View Part 1, on the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Read full transcript of State of the Union speech
View video of State of the Union speech
View Republican response
March 3, 2022 (Washington D.C.) – “We meet tonight in an America that has lived through two of the hardest years this nation has ever faced,” President Joe Biden stated during his State of the Union speech on March 1st. Those two years have seen Americans struggling amid a global pandemic, inflation, an assault on the U.S. capitol, and now a war in Europe that has ratcheted up tensions.
After an in-depth discussion of the Ukraine war, Biden pivoted to his domestic agenda, unveiling several ambitious proposals to address our nation's challenges as well as highlighting some successes during his first year in office.
The economy and jobs
The President highlighted his administration’s success in passing the American Rescue Plan to bring help to ordinary Americans struggling paycheck to paycheck during the pandemic. “It fueled efforts to vaccinate the nation and combat Covid-19. It delivered immediate economic relief for tens of millions of Americans,” President Biden explained, adding, “...it gave people a little breathing room.”
Besides providing $1,400 checks to help individuals, Biden credited the plan with creating jobs, “Lots of jobs. In fact, our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year, more jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of America. Our economy grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, the strongest growth in nearly 40 years.” That’s true, though that growth follows, 2020, when the economy floundered due largely to pandemic shutdowns in the U.S. and globally.
On the economy, Biden said trickle -down economics---tax breaks to the wealthy-- in the past have not worked in the favor of the everyday American and have hurt our country in the long run. He stated, “ But the Trickle-down theory led to weaker economic growth, lower wages, bigger deficits and the widest gap between those at the top and everyone else in nearly a century.”
His plan to fix the economy in America will focus on growing from the bottom up instead of from the up down. “Invest in America. Educate Americans. Grow the workforce. Build the economy from the bottom up,” he continued.
He touted passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Law that he recently signed into law with a goal to rebuild infrastructure across America such as roads and bridges, and more. Rebuilding America would also include modernizing and updating the infrastructure to make sure all Americans have access to high-speed internet that is affordable, to help combat climate change, including adding electric vehicle charging stations, and to replace lead drinking water pipes.
He pledged to create more jobs through the new Infrastructure law. “We are going to buy American: buy American products to support American jobs.”
He then called on Congress to pass the bipartisan Innovation Act that would make record investments in emerging technologies and manufacturing. The President explained why the Bipartisan Innovation Act was important to bring jobs and manufacturing to America then shipping them overseas.
“If you travel 20 miles east of Columbus, Ohio you’ll find 1,000 empty acres of land… This is where Intel, the American company that helped build Silicon Valley, is going to build it’s $20 billion semiconductor ‘mega site’,” Biden explained later noting that Intel is ready to increase their investment to $100 billion. Other companies are already bringing in factories and manufacturing jobs into America, he noted. GM and Ford have made massive investments to build electric vehicles, creating 15,000 new jobs in the U.S. “All told, we created 369,000 new manufacturing jobs in America just law year,” Biden said.
Inflation and “Building a Better America”
The President talked about the inflation that’s been ”robbing” people of gains they might otherwise feel. He promised, “That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control.”
Biden said that as the economy rebounds from the pandemic, businesses had a hard time hiring enough workers to keep up production in factors and global supply chains were also disrupted by the pandemic, pushing up prices of scarce supplies to meet demand.
His plan to fight inflation is not to drive down wages, but to have lower costs.
Biden then unveiled a new plan he called “Building a Better America” to fight inflation, lower costs, and reduce the deficit.
“17 Nobel laureates in economics say my plan will ease long-term inflationary pressures,” said the President, who also claimed support from top business leaders.
The Building a Better America plan aims to:
- Cut the cost of prescription drugs by capping costs of drugs such as insulin and letting Medicare negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs as the VA does now;
- Cut energy costs for families to help combat climate change, with investments and tax credits to weatherize homes and businesses, lower costs of electric so Americans won’t have to pay high gas prices at the pump, and double production of clean energy such as wind and solar;
- Cut the cost of child care so families won’t have to pay more than 7% of their income for care of young children (note: this was the key sticking point that has prevented passage of Biden’s “Build Back Better” act in Congress, where all Republicans as well as Democrat Joe Manchin refused to back the bill, Manchin due to the childcare provision, making it unclear how Biden would gain support for this provision);
- Provide help for in-home and long-term care of seniors;
- Affordable housing, though no details were provided;
“And under my plan, nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in new taxes,” said the President calling the current tax system not fair.
Taxes and oversight
“Just last year, 55 Fortune 500 corporations earned $40 billion n profits and paid zero dollars in federal income tax. That’s simply not fair. That’s why I’ve proposed a 15% minimum tax rate for corporations,” Biden said, adding that over 134 nations agree on a global minimum tax rate to prevent companies from dodging paying taxes at home by shipping jobs overseas. He also proposed closing loopholes so the very wealthy don’t pay lower tax rates than teachers or firefighters.
As part of this, President Biden announced that the Justice Department will choose a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud, targeting those who exploited the pandemic relief funds. Another part is cracking down on companies that overcharged American businesses and consumers. While the Trump administration cut oversight, Biden announced, “…the watchdogs have been welcomed back.”
He predicted that the deficit will continue to drop and that by the end of this year, the deficit will be cut to less than half what it was when Biden took office.
Nursing home reforms
He also pledged to have Medicare set higher standards for nursing homes, noting, “as Wall Street firms take over more nursing homes, quality in those homes has gone down and costs have gone up. That ends on my watch.”
He called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act which has long been stalled, as well to raise the minimum wage to lift families out of poverty.
He called for an increase in Pell grants as well as support of community colleges and historic black colleges and universities, as well as universal preschool.
Biden hailed progress in the fight against COVID-19 fueled largely by the administration’s investment in vaccines, testing kits and more. “We’ve reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, with severe cases down to a level not seen since last July,” he said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just issued new mask guidelines for most Americans to be mask-free. “Thanks to the progress we have made, this past year, COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,” he said.
With 75% of adults in the U.S. fully vaccinated and hospitalizations down 77%, the President indicated it is time to end shutdowns of schools and businesses. “Our schools are open. Let’s keep it that way. Our kids need to be in school.”
He added that additional free tests will be available next week for all Americans at COVIDtests.gov.
He outlined four steps to move forward from Covid-19:
- Stay protected with vaccines and treatments, including anti-viral treatments such as the Pfizer pill which reduces chances of hospitalization
- A new “Test to Treat” initiative allowing people who test positive to receive the antiviral pills immediately at testing sites in pharmacies
- Prepare for new variants
- End the shutdown of schools and businesses
- Continue vaccinating the world
The President talked about safety and equal justice on the streets, saying the answer was to fund the police with training and resources needed to protect communities—not defund them, drawing applause even from conservatives. He also noted it’s important to hold police accountable for their actions, which is why his Justice Dept. has required body cameras, banned chokeholds, and set restrictions on no-knock warrants. He also aims to reduce gun violence by having universal background checks, putting a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and repealing a law that shields gun manufacturers from being sued.
“In state after state, new laws have been passed, not only to suppress the vote…but to subvert the entire election,” said Biden, speaking just days after a federal court accepted a guilty plea from a member of the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the presidential election during the January 6 insurrection.
On voting rights, he called on the Senate to pass:
- The Freedom to Vote Act
- The John Lewis Voting Rights Act
- Disclose Act, so we know who is funding our elections
He also touted his nominee for the Supreme Court, Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first woman to serve on the high court if her nomination is confirmed by the Senate.
Immigration and border security
“If we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure our border and fix the immigration system,” said Biden.
To improve border security, his administration has installed new technology such as scanners to detect drug smugglers and set up joint patrols with Mexico and Guatemala to catch more human traffickers, the President said.
His administration is also adding dedicated immigration judges to more quickly process families and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, as well as deportation of any found not to be here legitimately.
He called for a pathway to citizenship for Dreams as well as those on temporary status, farm workers and essential workers. “Revies our laws so businesses have workers they need and families don’t wait decades to reunite,” he said, noting that immigration reform is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as labor and some religious leaders.
On women’s rights, the President wants to preserve a woman’s right to choose and for LGBTQ+ rights he talked about laws targeting transgender Americans in some states and supports the bipartisan Equality Act. He also announced plans to strengthen the Violence Against Women Act that he wrote over 30 years ago.
Unity agenda to help veterans and address serious health concerns for all
While some issues such as immigration and tax reform can be polarizing, Biden also announced a new “Unity Agenda” of issues that he believes should be broadly supported. This includes:
To unify the nation, he believes we must:
- Beat the opioid epidemic through a variety of reforms
- Take care of mental health needs, especially among children stressed by the pandemic
- Support veterans: Biden announced he is expanding V.A. eligibility to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers and will ask
Congress to give Iraq and Afghanistan veterans healthcare coverage for toxic exposures, such as to burn pits, noting that cancer claimed the life of his own son, Beau, a military veteran. His administration has already boosted job training and housing for returning veterans, as well as expanded healthcare access for low-income vets.
- Cut cancer death rates at least 50 percent over 25 years and turn cancers into treatable diseases. He urged Congress to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health to drive breakthroughs in cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer.
“As hard as these times have been, I am more optimistic about America today than I’ve been my whole life,” President Biden summed up, ‘because I see the future that’s within our grasp…We are the only nation on earth that has always turned every crisis we faced into an opportunity. The only nation that can be defined by a single word: possibilities.”
In conclusion, the President stated, “So on this night, on our 245th year as a nation…my report is this: the state of the union is strong because you, the American people, are strong. We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we’ll be stronger a year from now than we are today. This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America.”