On Wednesday night, President Biden will give his first public address to a joint session of Congress, making the case for his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and basically daring Republicans to challenge the proposal, which starts out with broad public support.
New presidents usually address lawmakers only weeks after taking office. It’s a chance to push their major initiatives and to reach out, at least rhetorically, to Americans of all political stripes. But with the coronavirus not yet under control, Mr. Biden is taking up the rite later than most, nearly at the end of his first 100 days in office.
(Not all members of Congress will attend. With social-distancing protocols in place, only about 200 people are expected to be there in person; the usual number for a speech like this is closer to 1,800.)
You might say that Mr. Biden missed his chance to address the country during his honeymoon period. But truthfully, he never had much of a honeymoon, thanks to the country’s deep polarization. Instead he has rallied a solid majority of independent voters and almost all Democrats around his ambitious agenda, and his approval rating now sits in the mid-50s, according to polling averages. He will seek to build on that momentum tonight.
He’s already passed major legislation: The $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package is among the largest investments in the American social safety net in history. And last month he outlined the American Jobs Plan, a $2.3 trillion bill that would modernize the country’s infrastructure and decrease the country’s reliance on carbon energy, while seeking to create millions of jobs.
Next up is the American Families Plan, which, like the jobs-and-infrastructure bill, has support from more than three in five Americans, according to recent polling.
But the Democratic Party’s moderate faction is less enthused about a large package devoted to what Mr. Biden is calling the country’s “human infrastructure” than it is about the bill addressing roads and bridges. The White House and Senate leadership, namely Senator Chuck Schumer, have their work cut out for them — particularly when it comes to winning over Senator Joe Manchin, the chamber’s most centrist Democrat.
As we look ahead to Mr. Biden’s speech tonight, here’s a glance at what he’ll be proposing, and how he might move the bill through Congress.
What’s in the bill?
A solid $1 trillion in the American Families Plan would go directly to spending, and the other $800 billion would show up in the form of tax credits.
The bill includes several provisions to reduce cost burdens on students and parents, in a bid to level the playing field during a time of widespread income inequality. Those provisions include making community colleges free nationwide; enhancing the Pell grant program; increasing funding for the recruitment and development of teachers; creating a paid family leave program; making public preschool universal; increasing funding to colleges and universities that have historically served nonwhite students; and providing more free summer meals to children.
The proposal would also make permanent one element of the expanded tax credit for parents that was created by the pandemic relief bill. Other aspects of the child tax credit would be extended to 2025.
What about health care?
The proposal also includes $200 billion to cut the cost of health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, cementing a series of measures passed in the March bill that increased the insurance subsidy for many Americans.
Yet the American Families Plan won’t include a couple of major Medicare-related provisions that are supported by lawmakers on the party’s left flank, but that most likely would have placed the bill in the cross hairs of powerful pharmaceutical and health insurance interests.
One would have empowered Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The other would have lowered the Medicare eligibility age to 60.
Those ideas aren’t likely to go away quietly; neither is Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to make a public health insurance option available to the entire country. That’s especially true because Senator Bernie Sanders has long made increasing access to public health insurance one of his big priorities — and as the head of the Senate Budget Committee, he plays a decisive role in crafting legislation passed through the process of budgetary reconciliation. (More below on how crucial that process has become to advancing Democrats’ domestic priorities.)
What will fund it?
The bill would be funded by increasing the marginal income tax rate for the top 1 percent of individual earners to 39.6 percent from 37 percent. Mr. Biden would also increase taxes on investment income for those who take in more than $1 million a year.
And the proposal would effectively raise taxes on certain inherited assets that typically benefit the wealthiest people, eliminating a part of the tax code that reduces capital gains on those inheritances.
It would also pay for personnel and technology enhancements at the Internal Revenue Service, with the goal of more effectively gathering taxes from wealthy people and corporations that often evade taxes.
Can it pass?
While the administration has said that it would like to pass the jobs and families bills with bipartisan support, Republican leaders are lining up in opposition to the bills. Since both involve adjustments to government spending and revenues, the bills would most likely be passed through the process of reconciliation, requiring only 51 votes.
As a result, the American Families Plan’s fate may lie in the hands of Mr. Manchin, as do so many things in this split-down-the-middle Senate. He told CNN on Sunday that he was concerned about the size of Mr. Biden’s “human infrastructure” proposal, saying he felt that the country had already spent “an awful lot” on Covid-19 relief and other domestic priorities.
He has been more laudatory of the American Jobs Plan, though even there he expressed qualms about the extent to which Mr. Biden wanted to fund it through increased taxes on the wealthy — and he celebrated Republicans for offering a much smaller counterproposal, one that the administration has shown no real interest in engaging.
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The Argument: America’s broken policing
On today’s episode, Jane Coaston spoke with three guests about police reform in the wake of the Derek Chauvin verdict. She was joined by:
Rashawn Ray, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, who argues that change can’t come from individual police officers but from the overall policy structures that incentivize their behavior.
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, who advances the argument to defund the police.
Randy Shrewsberry, a former police officer and forensic investigator, who thinks it’s unconscionable how little training the police receive in America.