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Biden promotes US recovery, spending plans in first joint address

Updated April 28, 2021 - 11:27 pm

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.8 trillion spending and tax package to help American families Wednesday in a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress, where he said the country is rebounding from the crippling coronavirus pandemic.

“I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said to applause during a televised, prime-time speech that came on the eve of his 100th day in office.

The president spoke to a sparsely filled House chamber because of coronavirus restrictions and social distancing that limited attendance. But his forceful selling of a broad economic plan was hailed by Democrats.

Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen were two of the few lawmakers who had tickets to the event.

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, two women, were sitting behind the president at the dais for the first time in U.S. history.

The House chamber erupted when Biden recognized Harris for breaking that barrier.

Cortez Masto called the president’s speech “empowering,” and Rosen said Biden outlined an ambitious plan to keep the country moving forward.

Security was tight at the Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection, which saw a horde of violent followers of former President Donald Trump overwhelm Capitol Police and ransack the House and Senate. Five people died in the clash during the certification of state vote counts in the presidential election.

Law enforcement was prepared for Biden’s first address to Congress. Fencing still surrounds the Capitol complex, and National Guardsmen patrolled the grounds.

Biden told lawmakers that many of their lives were threatened in the attack, “a test of whether our democracy would survive, and it did.”

Pandemic response

But the president used most of his hourlong address to tout his achievements in his first 100 days, particularly his administration’s response to the pandemic.

Since the inauguration, over 220 million vaccine doses have been administered and schools have reopened, a sign of recovery from the global coronavirus pandemic that shuttered storefronts and left 20 million Americans unemployed.

Biden ushered through a $1.9 trillion coronavirus recovery bill in March that extended unemployment benefits, provided small-business loans and delivered federal aid to states and cities to fund health initiatives and keep essential workers employed.

This month, the president also proposed a $2 trillion package to repair roads and bridges, expand broadband access and rail, and provide clean water through replacement of pipes and utility systems.

He called it a “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild this country,” where most of the jobs that would be created would only require a high school education.

Speaking before 200 people, far fewer than the 1,600 people who usually attend an address to Congress, Biden also unveiled specifics of his $1.8 trillion plan to help American families with programs to be paid for by increased taxes on the wealthy.

Biden’s plan would make permanent child tax credits, provide two free years of community college, free preschool and $225 billion for child care services.

The plan would strengthen the social net of programs, including money for public health exchanges created in the Affordable Care Act under former President Barack Obama and Bidenwhen he served as vice president.

To pay for the family plan initiatives, Biden is proposing an increase in income tax on those making more than $400,000 per year, a hike on capital gains taxes and raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent.

GOP response

Republicans have attacked the tax hike proposal as job-killing measures that would slow economic recovery.

Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, delivered the GOP response to Biden’s speech.

He said it was Republicans who passed five COVID-19 bills in the Senate last year that steered the country through the pandemic and accelerated the production of vaccines under Operation Warp Speed.

“This administration inherited a tide that had already been turned,” Scott said.

Scott also defended the Trump-era tax cuts that he said created an economic boom before the pandemic hit, while the Biden jobs and family plan is merely a “liberal wish list” that will hurt job growth.

Congressional Democrats, though, praised the Biden initiatives. The pandemic exposed social inequities as the coronavirus struck working class and minority communities harder than affluent suburbs.

“I think the pandemic has laid bare the economic inequities that exist,” said Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev. “And I think the package is a once-in-a-generation attempt to deal with those inequities.”

She said Biden’s speech made “this message even more important: It’s an unprecedented time in our country.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who has also championed educational programs and child tax credits, said Biden delivered a unifying message.

Lee and other Democrats in the Nevada congressional delegation held with tradition and invited guests to attend the speech, virtually because of pandemic restrictions.

All of the Las Vegas guests represented aspects of Biden initiatives in the first 100 days: a reverend who helped vaccination initiatives in the Black community, a small-business owner who received a loan to keep her cafe open and a woman whose family benefited from expanded unemployment and child tax credits.

Gun control, police reform

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., since 2017 has left an empty seat for such occasions in remembrance of the victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers, killing 60 people.

Biden has called for gun control measures and urged Congress to act on reforms that include tighter background checks and a ban on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Titus has filed legislation and voted for expanded background checks, but she doesn’t blame Biden for not accomplishing that goal this quickly.

The first priority was to get the nation through the pandemic.

“That’s shots in arms and money in people’s pockets,” Titus said.

Gun control, Titus said, would also package with police reform legislation that Biden pushed for in his speech. The reform priority comes during tensions in North Carolina over the death of a Black man at the hands of sheriff’s deputies and in Minnesota following the George Floyd verdict.

Biden urged Congress to make police reform a priority that could be passed within the next month, which is the anniversary of Floyd’s death.

Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, said the GOP is willing to work on police reform.

“I have experienced the pain of discrimination,” Scott said.

Scott also chastised Democrats for using the filibuster last year to block his police reform bill in the Senate. He said Americans are being pulled apart by racial divides created through political motivation.

“America is not a racist country,” Scott said.

During his speech, Biden recognized the differences in political debate on social issues and praised the Senate for recently voting 94-1 to pass a hate crimes bill to protect Asian Americans.

Biden said the two parties should come to consensus and pass a bill on police reform.

“The country supports this reform, and Congress should act,” Biden said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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