Progress and Purpose:  President Biden on the State of the Union 


March 8, 2024

Editor’s note: Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition on Human Needs, issued the following statement Friday, March 8 in response to President Biden’s State of the Union address: 

President Biden’s State of the Union address forcefully laid out his vision for a stronger democracy leading to greater fairness and an economy that works for all Americans.  Delivering his speech on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the civil rights march in Alabama met with brutal violence, he urged support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.  With stronger voting rights come greater accountability of elected officials, and greater accountability is likely to lead to policies ensuring that the rich and corporations pay more of their fair share of taxes.  The hundreds of billions in fair revenues the President proposed would allow for more investments in broadly shared economic benefits, from capped prescription drug costs to more affordable housing and education to a restoration of the historically effective Child Tax Credit. 

President Biden cited important progress during his time in office, including a dramatic reduction in unemployment as well as reduced disparities between white and Black unemployment levels.  He cited 15 million new jobs in three years, including 800,000 new manufacturing jobs, and pointed to big increases of people getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, with premium subsidies saving people $800 a year on average. 

But the speech was far more than a recounting of progress.  It was also strongly about purpose:  proposals to make lives easier and to invest in further growth.   

The proposals were based on a comprehensive look at drivers of economic insecurity for millions of Americans:  high costs for food, health care, housing, care for children, people with disabilities and the aging, education, and junk fees and price gouging by banks and corporations. 

President Biden urged the restoration of the full expanded Child Tax Credit for 66 million children, which cut child poverty nearly in half when it was in effect in 2021, “because no child should go hungry in this country!”  He also supports restoring an expired increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to help 19 million poor workers without dependent children.   

He called for making permanent the higher health insurance premium tax credits extended as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, and for limiting the annual cost of prescription drugs to $2,000 for all people, not just Medicare beneficiaries, whose prescription costs were limited under the Inflation Reduction Act.  Similarly, the President proposed expanding the $35 cap on insulin costs to all diabetes patients, not just those with Medicare benefits, and called for greatly increasing the number of drugs subject to price negotiations. The President would also protect our health by requiring all lead pipes to be removed from the nation’s water systems. 

The President called for a variety of measures to expand the housing supply and reduce mortgage and rental costs.  A fact sheet shared by the Administration called for 500,000 new rental vouchers for households with low incomes, a massive increase over the current 2.2 million vouchers, with a first-time guarantee of vouchers to veterans and young people aging out of foster care.  

The Administration’s campaign to reduce corporate price-gouging includes restrictions on junk fees for renters.  It also would set a cap of $8 on credit card fees that now frequently exceed $30, and would limit bank overdraft fees to $3.  These are two examples of fees that are often imposed repeatedly, causing significant hardship for people with low incomes and forcing many to go without the security of bank accounts. 

President Biden recognized that family economic security requires a care infrastructure including paid leave, affordable child care, and home and community-based care for the aging and people with disabilities, and called for increases in these areas.  He cited his Administration’s reduction of student loan debt for 4 million people, and called for continued increases in Pell Grants.  He repeated his support for extending preschool to all three and four year olds.   

The President made clear that we can afford these and more important investments in family economic security by making the rich and corporations pay more of their fair share in taxes.  His proposals include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and the minimum corporate tax to 21%, along with other measures to crack down on tax avoidance by large multinational corporations and quadrupling the stock buyback tax.  He proposed a new minimum tax of 25 percent on those with wealth of more than $100 million (the top 0.01 percent).  He strongly opposed any cuts to Social Security and pointed instead to raising Social Security taxes on people with high incomes. These and more initiatives to collect taxes from those who have evaded paying their fair share will make it possible to advance an investment agenda to build for the future and to reduce most Americans’ costs now while still reducing the deficit. 

Progress and purpose.  President Biden could justly point to his Administration’s accomplishments, guiding us out of a pandemic and its health and economic crises, but he recognized there is much more to do.  His proposals would dramatically reduce poverty and reduce the households now paying half or more of their income on rent (now numbering 12.1 million).  We must find humane and practical solutions to immigration issues.  The President called for some of these, including a pathway to citizenship for the “dreamers,” young people who came to this country as children, and speedier adjudication of migrants, and stood against separation of families.  But he did call on Congress to send him the bill negotiated in the Senate, which includes restrictions on asylum seekers that will not help and that are contrary to law and conscience. 

President Biden’s vision, also encompassing an increased minimum wage and other labor rights, and efforts to combat gun violence, requires the cooperation of Congress to be fully implemented, and that cooperation is not at this point likely in many areas. But the most forward-looking policies and investments have entrenched opposition.  That’s where the  exercise of democracy comes in, and human needs advocates must be unflagging participants.