The State of the Union: President Biden’s Powerful, Practical Guarantees of Freedom
Editor’s note: CHN Executive Director Deborah Weinstein issued the following statement Wednesday, March 2 in response to President Biden’s State of the Union address.
We heard a true celebration of freedom in President Biden’s State of the Union speech. The President demonstrated resolve in support of the Ukrainian struggle for freedom – in action, not just words. He also demonstrated what is required in a free and just society: that people can live free from want and fear, choosing their own path and joining in the direction of their government. The Ukrainian people deserve our support as they fight an unprovoked attack. Here at home, the President recognizes that there is no freedom without protections against sickness, hardship, and injustice; no freedom without opportunities to thrive and work.
Martin Luther King, Jr. asked “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?” President Biden’s speech insisted on both. He called for voting rights and for economic rights. His proposals would continue the historic reduction in poverty his policies achieved in the past year and make urgently needed gains for people of color and immigrants. He would make it possible for families to afford child care and home care for their relatives with disabilities or aging. He would create more care work jobs with decent pay. With those services more available, more people would be able to return to the labor force, helping them and further strengthening our economy.
President Biden called for continued investment in the health of our people, by extending health insurance premium subsidies and reducing prescription drug costs. He would make sure all poor adults could qualify for Medicaid. He would require and fund more mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The pandemic is not the only health challenge we face, but it is not yet over. Affordable and comprehensive health insurance is essential.
Biden recognizes that rising prices undermine the economic security of millions of Americans. But he rejects attempts to control inflation by hurting those most vulnerable to it, saying “One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I have a better plan to fight inflation: lower your costs – not your wages.” He supports labor reforms to prevent businesses from throwing up roadblocks to prevent employees from joining unions.
He proposes immediate help with rising costs in health care, food, child care and pre-kindergarten. He calls for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and extending the Child Tax Credit, “so no one has to raise a family in poverty.” Inflation has added more than $200 in monthly household costs for food, gas, and housing. The Child Tax Credit provided $250-$300 per month per child, far more than the toll of inflation. Ending the monthly Child Tax Credit payments in December pushed 3.7 million children back into poverty in just one month, just when rising prices made the tax credit’s help even more important.
He offers a longer-term plan to reduce costs by encouraging manufacturing in the United States, including a massive expansion of computer chip production and investments in renewable energy. The already-enacted infrastructure investments will make it cheaper to manufacture and transport goods. These strategies will create millions of jobs while reducing costs to consumers and businesses. He was not explicit about the need to invest in affordable housing, but that need is very great. The American Rescue Plan has staved off evictions, but 10 million tenants are behind in their rent as benefits are expiring and prices are rising. The President’s previous proposals to invest in housing are needed more than ever now.
He would reduce costs by ensuring that corporations compete fairly, do not price gouge, and do not avoid taxes by grossly inequitable breaks. He would offset the expenditures on cost-saving initiatives in health care, child care, and more with fair taxes on corporations and the very wealthy. Those increased revenues from people and corporations who can well afford to pay will mean that the increased benefits to families will not add to inflation.
This is a powerful, practical set of policies to guarantee meaningful freedom at home while opposing the autocratic Russian moves abroad. Members of the Coalition on Human Needs and its allies nationwide will continue to work hard to support this comprehensive approach to increase income and jobs and improve health and economic security. President Biden’s comprehensive proposals deserve Congress’ support now.