Presenting his report card at the State of the Union address to both houses especially to the recently snatched away Congress by the Republicans, President Biden outlined his vision despite the implicit legislative challenges often invoking the need for the bipartisan support, while justifying their rationale for nation building and for the welfare of the common Americans.
He was in command and even jovial and direct while often drifting away from prepared speech, underlying the mistakes of the previous Administrations especially that of the last Trumpian one much to the discomfort of the republicans especially Speaker Kevin McCarthy. All said and done, much to the applause of the democrats and passive republican benches, he did project his re-election bid in 2024.
Biden recounted several challenges ailing the country which seems to have lost its edge as the greatest power. Infrastructure, in which USA was the frontrunner has slid to 13th position and he has been advocating for a ‘Build Back Better ‘ campaign to regain and renew the infrastructural supremacy in the 21 st century with trillions of dollars in fresh investments.
For federal infrastructure projects all construction and related materials will have to be sourced from within he advocated. He also wants US to become the ace in the global value and supply chains which should emanate from US once again. Recalling that Semi-conductors were invented in the US and now only 10 percent is made here as the production was outsourced whose ill effects were felt during the pandemic across the industrial, automotive and communication sectors due to Chinese and Covid disruptions. Not again is the mantra.
Make in America, Made in America, buy American were the key arguments as he underscored that US can once again be the manufacturing hub and best economy in the world. He reiterated that over 10 Million new businesses were created as unemployment and inflation had gone down significantly. He urged the Republicans to clear his proposals , And for some he even threatened to veto if they were indeed passed and brought to his table.
Since he was presenting his performance and achievements score card the focus was mainly on populist issues and measures. Healthcare has always been a contentious issue among both sides of the aisle. He was categorical that the pricing of various essential medicines for diabetes and cancer etc. be capped and affordability and purview of the Medicare should be expanded. This was more important in view of the adverse impacts of the Covid pandemic when over a million Americans had died. It is not over as yet.
On the accusation that Republicans wanted to kill the Medicare or swap with debt ceiling many conservatives rose to challenge him and even called ‘Liar’ rupturing the house decorum.
To appease and alleviate the burden on average household he even proposed to cut and eliminate the Junk tax and late fee charges by credit card companies from $30 to $8 and airlines to fully disclose the charges levied on travellers. He also spoke of strict and actionable laws to address gun violence and drug abuse and smuggling.
Even the need to pass the George Floyd Police reforms Act, in the wake of Tyre Nichols case of police atrocity in the presence of his parents, was highlighted by him saying that public safety depends on public trust. He also wanted the education to be really universal and affordable without which American talent edge will be compromised. Likewise, he regretted the increasing suicide rates among veterans and the political violence especially referring to the attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of former speaker Nancy Pelosi. More importantly on immigration he proposed a pathway to citizenship for the ‘dreamers‘ while asking for funds at least for beefing up equipment and technology for border management and surveillance.
He also called out the pharma companies’ unethical and profiteering behavior who made billions of dollars, stating that Corporations are not doing the right thing. While they made over $200 billion in profits, they did not plough back but used it to buy back stocks. Hence not only he proposed to quadruple the tax on such transactions but also a billionaire minimum tax limit to be enhanced.
“Look, capitalism without competition is not capitalism, it’s extortion, “ he emphasised. How will these gel with the entrepreneurial spirit and free trade ethos of a liberal America is yet to be seen. Republicans won’t buy that. In any case a more protectionist USA may be on the anvil.
On the foreign policy front as expected he limited his cursory comments to the real challenges of Russia and China in the wake of recent spy balloon busting incident, which possibly could have a connection with the impending State of the Union address where Biden wanted to be seen as decisive. As far as China was concerned, he would prefer competition and not conflict but if their sovereignty was challenged USA will act and defend itself as was done recently in downing the Chinese spy balloon. “As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country,” Biden claimed. “And we did.”
He mentioned that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been a real test for America and the world but ’we led the global coalition against Putin’. He also assured of the full support to Ukraine ‘s sovereignty and integrity but no new aid package was announced given the republican reticence. Ukraine Ambassador to US was invited to the proceedings. Unlike the last time this mention was somewhat lackadaisical which shows that in the run up the elections President Biden will have several challenges from the Republicans going forward and may have to compromise to scrape through many of his proposals.
He was animated yet occasionally combative but being a seasoned congressman, senator, Vice President and President, Biden knows how to aim the sling. He hopes for bipartisan consensus as he dangled a carrot or an olive branch. “We are often told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. But over these past two years, we proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong.”
But to make America Great Again and to harness the new age of possibilities will have its own challenges both domestic and external which the Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee termed as ‘woke fantasies than hard reality’.
This article was first published by CNBC TV 18 as State of the Union Address — Biden knows how to aim the sling on February 8, 2023.
Read more by the author: India’s Multi-Networked Approach to Foreign Policy.