- Schuyler Beltrami
President Biden Delivers First Address to Congress
In his first address to Congress, President Biden outlined his plans for the future of his administration and lauded the resurgent American economy.
Last night President Biden delivered his first remarks to Congress. The night made history for two reasons, as it was the first time ever that both people sitting behind the President were female (Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)), and the House chamber, which is usually filled with over 1000 people for the speech, was kept to an occupancy of just over 100 due to COVID restrictions.
The annual speech is often used by Presidents to proclaim their plan for the year ahead, as well as to celebrate the achievements of their presidency to that point. Although President Biden’s term is still in its infancy, this speech was no different, as the President commended the immense efforts of healthcare professionals around the country in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and lauded the tremendous growth of the United States economy in the first 100 days of his presidency.
The rollout and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine has surely been one of President Biden’s most significant accomplishments during his presidency, as the United States remains second in the world for vaccinations, only behind Israel, with over 54% of all Americans already have receiving at least one dose of a vaccine. When he entered office, it was the President’s goal to have at least 100 million vaccines rolled out in the first 100 days. That number soon surpassed 200 million within 100 days, as production ramped up and large arenas and stadiums around the country used as vaccination centers. The high vaccination numbers have led to loosened restrictions in many parts of the country, including reopening of movie theaters and indoor dining. Earlier this week, the European Union announced that fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to enter the EU from July 1st, a monumental step in the reopening of international tourism.
Moving on to the economy, President Biden gave a message of hope and optimism for the future of the American economy, which has not yet fully recovered from the pandemic recession of the past year. Under President Biden, the United States economy has grown by 4,5%, which far outpaces former President Trump’s best year of economic growth, in which the economy grew by 2,9% year-to-year, a fact that President Biden was quick to point out. With the phased reopening happening around the country, many Americans are returning to work, but many also are not. For those who have not been able to find work, President Biden announced massive new spending proposals to improve many aspects of American life, including the economy, infrastructure, and education, in the style of The New Deal of President Roosevelt in the 1930’s.
Among President Biden’s most ambitious plans includes a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which focuses less on the traditional “roads and bridges” of conventional infrastructure and more on modernizing America’s highways, easing access to high-speed internet (a problem which has been exposed due to the high amount of online learning and remote working during the pandemic), and cleaning up America’s public water supply, which is part of the President’s larger dedication to reversing the effects of climate change and halving America’s carbon output. President Biden also wants to pass a $1,8 trillion economic plan aimed at improving American manufacturing and eliminating childhood poverty, as well as offering tuition-free community college and universal Pre-K for every family. Both of these plans will act in combination with the already-passed $1,9 trillion COVID relief bill, which included stimulus checks for many Americans. Despite their large price tags, most Americans support these large relief and improvement bills. According to polls conducted by the USA Today and Monmouth, between 65-70% of Americans are supportive of these spending bills, while over 70% of Americans support the President’s agenda more broadly. The President hopes to capitalize on this popular support, as well as Democratic control of both houses of Congress to pass these bills.
Speaking directly to members of Congress for the first time, the President urged his Democratic colleagues to pass his new spending laws, as well as other laws including a police reform bill named in memory of George Floyd. Although almost all of his new proposals are sure to have pushback from Republicans in Congress, with the Democrats in power, these bills will most likely pass into law.
As is usual with these speeches to Congress, the minority party offered a rebuttal of the President’s speech. This year’s rebuttal on behalf of the Republican Party came from Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), the only African American Republican in the Senate. Senator Scott’s rebuttal protested against the large price tags attached with President Biden’s vision for the next year and noted the party’s opposition to the already-passed COVID relief bill from March. Senator Scott also attacked the President for giving the party over to progressive Democrats and supporting an agenda which aims to divide the country, rather than unite it. In one of the more puzzling remarks from Senator Scott’s rebuttal, he insisted that America is “not a racist country”, which seems to be in conflict with his own personal stories of being stopped by police for no reason up to seven times in the past year.
The President’s speech lasted for just under one hour before he left the chamber of the House of Representatives stopping to speak with many of his lifelong colleagues in Congress before settling in for his first full year as President.