U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of congress as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), right, look on in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. On the eve of his 100th day in office, Biden spoke about his plan to revive America’s economy and health as it continues to recover from a devastating pandemic. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address is set to focus significantly on the economy, with the former member of the U.S. Senate calling on Congress to pass much of the agenda stalled in the so-called Build Back Better bill.
During the Tuesday night speech, which begins at 9 p.m. ET, Biden will urge lawmakers to send him legislation that would lower prescription drug prices, reduce how much families pay for child care and create a national paid family and medical leave program, administration officials told reporters in a Monday briefing.
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He’ll also call on Congress to pass tax legislation that would require corporations and the wealthiest Americans to “pay their fair share,” but not raise tax rates on people making less than $400,000, according to senior administration officials.
The policies made up the bulk of Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation, but administration officials said Biden might not actually use the name of the proposal during his speech.
“It’s not about the name of the bill, it’s about the ideas, it’s about lowering costs for families,” one official said.
Biden’s speech is expected to focus on global issues as well, particularly the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But the part of the speech focused on domestic policy issues will give Biden another opportunity to try to rally support for initiatives that have been on ice since West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III declared the $1.5 trillion climate and social spending package dead late last year.
Senior administration officials said Biden’s comments on the economy will focus on his “vision” for the country, particularly his proposals to lower costs for families while reducing the federal deficit.
To bolster U.S. economic competitiveness globally, Biden is expected to appeal to House and Senate leaders to reach a conference agreement on legislation that would authorize billions in additional funding for science and technology research to help the U.S. compete against China.
Biden will also call for a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, a proposal that Democrats tried to enact last year when they drafted a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The proposal was ultimately stripped from the bill after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it didn’t fit within the bounds of the budget process Democrats used to advance the package without Republican support.
In addition to calling on Congress to pass initiatives, Biden will focus on how his administration is working to implement the roughly $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure law Congress approved last year.
Biden is expected to detail how the law will lead to improvements in 65,000 miles of roads; 1,500 bridges; 15,000 new buses, ferries and subway cars; and 600 airport infrastructure projects.
He will then tell members of Congress how the law will allow the Environmental Protection Agency to fund more than 400 water projects and let the Army Corps of Engineers advance more than 500 projects.
Biden will also detail numerous ways his administration hopes to improve nursing home care, including asking Congress to boost spending on health and safety inspections to $500 million, a nearly 25% increase.
The initiative through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will require nursing homes to have a minimum number of staff, promote individual rooms for residents, explore increasing fines on facilities not in line with standards and create a database to keep track of owners’ previous violations.
The administration officials didn’t mention if Biden would detail his climate change initiatives in the speech. Those proposals made up a significant portion of the Build Back Better plans.
The atmosphere of this year’s address will be significantly different from last year’s, which technically wasn’t a State of the Union, but a speech to a joint session of Congress.
The number of attendees won’t be nearly as limited as they were last year and members of Congress are no longer required to wear masks.
Immediately afterward, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will deliver from Des Moines the Republican response to Biden’s State of the Union address.
On Wednesday, Biden is scheduled to travel to Superior, Wisconsin, to “discuss Building a Better America,” according to the White House.
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