Biden Seeks to Define Success, Agenda

President Challenges Congress on Spending and Agenda Going Forward

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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President Joe Biden challenged Republicans on the budget, taxes and the state of the economy during his State of the Union Speech on Tuesday. Biden called for immigration reform, including greater border security. (DTN image from livestream)

DES MOINES (DTN) -- President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening, looked to fire up his base with plans for immigration and labor reform, tax increases for wealthier people and a list of proposals that likely will struggle to gain traction in a divided Congress grappling with the debt limit.

The president directly challenged GOP lawmakers over budget plans, calling for House Republicans to propose a budget at the same his administration releases his proposed budget, "and discuss our mutual plans together." Biden proposed raising taxes while Republicans have championed spending cuts.

That came after some jeers when Biden claimed GOP House members want to "take the economy hostage" over the federal debt limit.

"Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset," Biden said, drawing boos from Republicans in the chamber, causing him to add, "I know it's not all of you. Just some of you."

The jeers then led Biden to bait the GOP. "So, apparently, we all have agreed Social Security and Medicare is off the books."

And that prompted a standing ovation for seniors, Medicare and Social Security.

Looking to counter GOP demands to cut spending, Biden said his budget plan would cut the federal deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years. Doing so, however, Biden said he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 -- directly stating his budget would propose to raise taxes on higher-income families. Biden called on the wealthiest "to pay their fair share."

"The tax system is not fair. It is not fair," Biden said.

Biden called on Congress to address immigration reform, and called for citizenship for farmworkers, young adults brought into the U.S. as children and others in the U.S. on temporary visas.

On Ukraine, the president pointed to "Putin's unfair and brutal war" that has disrupted global energy and food supplies "blocking all of that grain in Ukraine," Biden said. The U.S. has led NATO and stood with Ukraine against Russia's aggression, he said.

With China, Biden said the U.S. "is in the strongest position in decades to compete with China," though the president committed to work with China in areas "where it can advance American interests and benefit the world."

Highlighting legislative victories, Biden spoke at length about infrastructure projects around the country that are being funded by the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in fall 2021. He cited bridge projects, water infrastructure and broadband internet. He also added that the equipment for these projects will be "Buy American" but meet world trade agreements.

"Tonight, I'm also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America," Biden said.

In touting his record, Biden also pointed to signing the Ocean Shipping Reform Act last June. That bill has brought down shipping costs, he said.

"I signed a bipartisan bill that cut shipping costs by 90%, helping American farmers, businesses and consumers," he said.

Biden called for a comprehensive immigration bill, but he called on lawmakers to pass his plan to add more equipment and Border Patrol officers. He also called on Congress to pass an immigration bill, calling for "a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers."

"Let's come together on immigration and make it a bipartisan effort once again," he said.

Biden was interrupted by a few Republicans who shouted to "secure the border."

Early in his speech, Biden sought to quell some criticism over high inflation over the past year, noting gas prices are $1.50 below their peak. He added that food inflation is coming down "not fast enough but coming down."

Biden implied economic conditions are improving for Americans, though an ABC News/Washington Post poll this week showed 4 in 10 Americans this week said they are financially worse off than two years ago, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Just 16% of those polled claimed they were better off.

To compare, the ABC News/Washington Post poll after two years into the Trump administration showed 25% were in better shape financially and 13% of Americans said they were worse off.

The president sought to change the narrative.

"Inflation has fallen every month for the last six months while take-home pay has gone up," Biden said.

He pointed to a record level of jobs added in his administration -- coming off the pandemic economic losses -- but added that "a record 10 million Americans applied to start a new small business" over the last 10 years. The president touted the Inflation Reduction Act, passed last summer, as "the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis." He said the bill is lowering utility bills, creating jobs, and will increase renewable energy.

He also pointed out "historic conservation efforts to responsible stewards of our land."

Biden championed plans to build as many as 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. He added, "We're still going to need oil and gas for a while," drawing applause from Republicans.

The president also challenged high oil profits, but drew laughs from Republicans when he said, "We're going to need oil for at least another decade."

Following the speech, the Biden administration is now sending out cabinet members to different parts of the country.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan will visit Kansas on Wednesday where he will highlight a school district that started using an electric bus. On Thursday, Regan will visit a Kansas farm "and participate in demonstrations of advanced agricultural equipment that boosts productivity while reducing environmental impacts," EPA stated.

EPA stated Regan also will hold a roundtable event with farmers, ranchers and Kansas ag leaders "to discuss ways to advance the agriculture sector's climate mitigation and adaptation goals, ensuring EPA can best support farmers and ranchers."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to North Carolina on Wednesday to highlight the Biden administration's push for climate-smart agriculture, stating the initiatives to lower greenhouse gases in agriculture will "provide direct, meaningful benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers in North Carolina and across the country," USDA stated.

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Chris Clayton