With the nation facing the grim consequences of pandemic policies, inflation rising quickly and Russia escalating its ruthless invasion into Ukraine, President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union in person for the first time since his inauguration to a room full of maskless leaders and lawmakers.
While it was clocked as one of the shortest SOTU addresses in history, only second to President Obama’s last, Biden addressed a wide realm of issues and made some concerted efforts to unify both Congress and the American people under a progressive social agenda, at various points finding himself being jeered at by House Republicans.
Here are five things you need to know about President Biden’s SOTU:
1. A Hard Stance Taken on Putin and Russia:
President Biden began by asserting that ‘freedom will always triumph over tyranny’ and ‘democracy over autocracy.’ Putin, in his invasion of Ukraine, badly miscalculated both this truth and the “wall of strength,” that is the Ukrainian people. Despite his emphasis on U.S. troops not engaging in any ground conflict, for what it’s worth, Biden doubled down on America standing with the Ukrainian people.
Biden further underscored the continued use of sanctions by the international community to isolate and choke out Russian economic resources, to hold Putin accountable for this “unprovoked” and “premeditated” attack on a sovereign people. Biden also announced America will be closing its air space to all Russian flights, something the international community had been holding its breath for, and which America was running out of time in announcing., The Ukrainian representative in the audience, Oksana Markarova, received a standing ovation, and most attendees wore the colors of the Ukrainian flag in solidarity.
2. Plans to “get prices under control”:
Biden announced a new and multi-pronged plan to combat the problems of inflation and reduce the costs of consumer goods. Instead of driving down wages, Biden proposed a plan to “Build in America”, emphasizing four major points revolving around progressive healthcare policies.
Firstly, he proposed to cut the cost of prescription drugs, not through breaking up exploitive monopolies but through simply capping prices on what seems appropriate in comparison to costs of production. This would be done through allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceuticals to decide the market costs of prescription drugs. What follows is a decrease in the cost of childcare, capping the cost of raising a child at 7% of parental income. At the end of the list of suggestions, Biden said details will come later. He also mentioned an additional, and even more aggressive, affordable housing plan and tax increases for the top 1 percent and large corporations.
3. Progressive Social Initiatives:
In addition to the minimum 15 percent income tax for corporations which have already moved the majority of their means of production overseas, there will also be a nationalization of strong unionist policy through the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Biden is asking Congress to pass immediately. This act nationalizes California State union laws, which currently have the state in an economic chokehold. Not only can the provisions of this act fire employees for not paying union fees, among other consequences, it would also give unions access to the personal information of its members without consent.
Biden also announced his Unity Agenda, a powerful healthcare policy aimed at four main initiatives: Beating the opioid pandemic, taking on mental health concerns, expanding Veteran Association policies, and an “end to cancer as we know it.” Beating the opioid pandemic includes a general crackdown on the flow of illicit drugs, and mental health concerns fall mainly toward the protection of children from targeted advertising on social media platforms. President Biden also proposed to increase healthcare of veterans to include those affected by the toxins of burn pits outside of deployment sites in both Kosovo and Afghanistan.
4. Funding the Police:
“We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
In an unexpected rejection of House Democrat’s movement to defund the police, Biden identified the police as those who strive to protect our communities, flipping the narrative. President Biden also announced the American Protection Program, a $350 billion package, which claims to fund community-oriented police programs in order to reduce gun violence. Whether or not this program is restrictive on policing standards, the president also vowed to hold the Department of Justice more accountable to the American public. This statement got a round of applause from the Republican party, as did the President’s admission of a broken immigration system and weak border security, pointing to further attempts at bipartisan appeal, if only at least in word rather than deed.
5. Voting Reform:
The President also set forth three acts, asking Congress to pass them now, with the goal of election and voting reform; Freedom to Vote Act, John Lewis Act, and Disclose Act.
Both the Freedom to Vote and Disclose Acts aim to further federalize election regulations and level the playing field for voters, especially those of color. Additionally, two sections of the John Lewis Act have already been struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. House Republicans see it as a power grab by the federal government, reducing the power of states and counties over their election practices. Since House Republicans refuse to further nationalize election regulations, it does not look like the proposed promises of these three acts will come to fruition.