Biden to highlight record jobs growth in upbeat State of Union address

  • In Business
  • 2023-02-08 00:54:52Z
  • By The Guardian
Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters  

Joe Biden will offer an optimistic vision for the future of America when he delivers his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night, seeking to reassure a disillusioned nation that its economy and its democracy are stronger now than they were when he assumed office two years ago.

Midway through the first term of his presidency, and before he is expected to announce that he will formally seek re-election, Biden is expected to credit his economic agenda with helping to pull the country from the depths of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, he will emphasize the reassertion of American leadership on the global stage after the shock of January 6 assault on the US Capitol and amid a grinding war in Europe and rising tensions with China.

"As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12m new jobs - more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years," Biden will say, according to excerpts released ahead of his address.

"Two years ago, Covid had shut down our businesses, closed our schools, and robbed us of so much. Today, Covid no longer controls our lives. And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the civil war. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken."

Polls show most Americans have not yet felt the impact of Biden's policies in their everyday lives, particularly when it comes to their personal finances. Although inflation has started to cool after peaking at an alarming rate of 9.1% last summer, only 21% of Americans rate current economic conditions as positive, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Even the jobs market, which has been a bright spot for the US economy in recent months, does not inspire much confidence among the American public. The country's unemployment rate hit a 53-year low of 3.4% last month, but just 34% of Americans say Biden has made progress on creating more good jobs for their communities, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found.

Addressing the nation from the House rostrum, Biden is also expected to trumpet legislative accomplishments from his first two years in office - including a sweeping health and climate package, an infrastructure law and major new investments in the domestic semiconductor industry.

"My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten," he will say of his agenda, which calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, expanded aid for the poor and more federal investment in healthcare, childcare, education and infrastructure.

"Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives," he will say.

But with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, Biden faces significant hurdles in advancing his legislative agenda. The relationship between Biden and the new House Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, has gotten off to a rocky start amid the usual Republican intransigence.

McCarthy has demanded government spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, but Biden has insisted on a "clean" bill to raise the nation's borrowing limit with no strings attached. The treasury has warned that the US could be at risk of default unless the debt ceiling is raised by June.

In an address on Monday, McCarthy defended the Republican strategy of using the debt limit as a bargaining chip to extract spending cuts.

"The debt limit is one of the most important opportunities Congress has to change course," he argued.

But the Republican's speech was scant on details about exactly which programs his party would target. McCarthy said cuts to Medicare and social security - popular federal programs - were "off the table" and told reporters Republicans would not raise taxes, leaving it unclear how his party plans to shrink the federal budget.

Biden is prepared to hold separate talks with Republicans about fiscal discipline, Deese noted, but he has made clear he will not allow them to leverage the full faith and credit of the United States to force spending cuts.

In a sign the country - and Congress - have adjusted to life with Covid, the White House and legislators once again resumed the tradition of bringing guests who send a political message.

Seated in the box with the first lady, Jill Biden, will be parents of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black father who was brutally beaten by Memphis police officers and later died; the 26-year-old man who disarmed a gunman during a shooting in Monterey Park, California; singer-humanitarian Bono and Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi who was brutally assaulted in the days before the midterm elections by a hammer-wielding assailant who allegedly sought to injure the Democratic lawmaker.

For a second year in a row, Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the US, will also attend as a guest of the Bidens as the president makes the case for sustained support as the nation defends itself against a Russian onslaught.

The newly elected governor of Arkansas, Sarah Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump's press secretary, was asked to deliver the Republican response to Biden's speech. Sanders, currently America's youngest governor at 40, plans to attack Biden over inflation and accuse Democrats of waging a "leftwing culture war" against average Americans, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks.

"Republicans believe in an America where strong families thrive in safe communities, where jobs are abundant and paychecks are rising," Sanders plans to say.

Republicans, eager to damage the president as he weighs a second presidential bid, have already used their new House majority to open investigations into the business dealings of Biden's son, Hunter, the discovery of classified materials at his home and office, and his administration's handling of the pandemic, the border and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Yet White House officials said Biden would use the speech to extol the virtues of bipartisanship, part of his pitch when he ran for president.

Urging lawmakers to act on his so-called "unity agenda", Biden's speech includes initiatives the White House believes can break the partisan gridlock, including efforts to crack down on illegal drugs, improve access to mental health care, boost support for cancer research and address the high rates of homelessness and suicide among veterans.

"If we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can't work together in this new Congress," Biden is expected to say.


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