Biden’s First Address to Congress: Proving ‘Our Government Still Works’
On the eve of his 100th day in office, the president recapped his administration’s achievements and outlined plans for vast reforms.
On Wednesday night, during his first address to Congress, President Biden celebrated his administration’s achievements in its first 100 days, particularly in combatting the pandemic, and sought to restore Americans’ belief that the federal government can deliver for them.
“We have to prove democracy still works. That our government still works—and can deliver for the people,” Biden. “In our first 100 days together, we have acted to restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver. We’re vaccinating the nation. We’re creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. We’re delivering real results people can see and feel in their own lives. Opening the doors of opportunity. Guaranteeing fairness and justice.”
The Pew Research Center reported in September 2020 that public trust in the federal government has been near historic lows for over decade. Separately, a poll by Axios/Ipsos released on January 26 found that trust in the federal government’s response to the pandemic surged after Biden was sworn in. This came after four years of President Donald Trump’s administration taking drastic measures to reshape the federal bureaucracy and cast doubt on the career civil service.
On coronavirus vaccinations, Biden said, “We’re marshaling every federal resource” as “we’ve gotten the vaccine to nearly 40,000 pharmacies and over 700 community health centers.” Under Biden, the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up community vaccination sites and is sending mobile units into areas that are hard to reach.
As of Wednesday evening, nearly 55% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine and almost 38% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data.
While acknowledging the hardships of the pandemic and the resulting recession, the president said there was “crisis—and opportunity.”
He touted the $1.9 coronavirus relief package––the American Rescue Plan––that he signed into law on March 11, which he called, “One of the most consequential rescue packages in American history.”
It included a third roundup of stimulus payments since the pandemic began. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced earlier on Wednesday they have distributed about 163 million payments, totaling approximately $384 billion since March 12.
New Spending Plans
Biden spoke about the American Families Plan, which he unveiled on Wednesday morning, that would be a $1 trillion investment over 10 years and include $800 in tax cuts for families and workers. The plan would pump $80 billion into the IRS, which has withered over the last decade, particularly in the enforcement division,
Specifically, the plan looks to increase the IRS’s power to investigate tax evasion and give it the authority to regulate tax preparers.
“The IRS will crack down on millionaires and billionaires who cheat on their taxes,” said the president. “That’s estimated to be billions of dollars. Look, I’m not out to punish anyone. But I will not add to the tax burden of the middle class of this country.”
He also spoke about the American Jobs Plan, which he released last month, to make a “once-in-a-generation investment in America itself.” The plan would include $28 billion for federal buildings and change how the government’s capital projects are financed.
“All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: ‘Buy American,’” he said. “American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs. The way it should be."
He issued an executive order on January 25 to push federal agencies to buy more products made in the United States, building on current laws—the Buy American and Buy America statutes, passed in 1933 and 1982, respectively. On Tuesday, he named a veteran trade expert as director for the newly established Made in America office within the Office of Management and Budget.
On immigration, which “has always been essential to America,” Biden outlined his vision for reform that he said lawmakers have been trying to accomplish for over 30 years.
“Congress needs to pass legislation this year to finally secure protection for the Dreamers—the young people who have only known America as their home,” he said, as well as provide permanent protections for immigrants on temporary protected status who come from countries beset by violence and disaster.
Managing the vast influx of migrants at the southern border has been an early struggle for the administration. The Office of Personnel Management and Health and Human Services Department asked federal employees to serve four-month details assisting at the border. The administration is also in the arduous process of undoing the Trump administration’s immigration policies and regulations.
As first introduced in the outline of his fiscal 2022 discretionary spending proposal, Biden said the National Institutes of Health should have an Advanced Research Projects Agency for health, similar to the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This new agency would “develop breakthroughs to prevent, detect, and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.”
Biden called on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. On Monday he signed an executive order promoting collective bargaining and ensuring “the federal government is a model employer with respect to encouraging worker organizing and collective bargaining among its workforce,” according to a fact-sheet from the White House.
The speech also covered plans to tackle climate change, racial, gender and sexual orientation inequity, police reform and gun safety––all of which the president addressed in his preliminary budget request (the full version will be out sometime this spring) and has taken steps to address through executive actions and orders.
Biden has surpassed his recent predecessors with the number of executive orders issued in his first 100 days—41 far, compared to 30 from former President Trump and 19 from former President Obama.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the secretaries of State and Defense were the only Cabinet members present.
After Congress’ slow start due to the impeachment proceedings against Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection and passage of the American Rescue Plan, the Senate has confirmed 39 of Biden’s nominees; 116 are under consideration by the Senate and 32 are awaiting formal nomination. Of the 792 positions that The Washington Post and nonprofit Partnership for Public Service are tracking, 358 have no nominee yet.
Biden has had many historic firsts in selecting Cabinet members and other top officials—diversity, equity and inclusion are core pillars of his agenda.
For the first time in history, every White House live stream of the speech has had an American Sign Language interpreter. And for the first time in history two women sat behind the president on the dais as he spoke: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Biden came into office after an unprecedented transition and two weeks after a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, where he served for 36 years.
“The insurrection was an existential crisis—a test of whether our democracy could survive,” he said. “It did. But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent.”