By Mike Sherr
President Joe Biden stood before Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to deliver the State of the Union address, in which he discussed political gains and called on Congress to pass certain legislation. Biden faced some backlash during his speech from some members of the Republican Party for comments he made about various topics.
The State of the Union is a speech given by the president every year to members of Congress, military Generals, Foreign Ambassadors and Supreme Court Justices about the current situation in the United States. Although it is mandated by the Constitution, there is no mention of what the “State of the Union” entails or how often Congress should be informed about it. The early 2000s political drama, “The West Wing,” got it right when it was said that the president would fulfill their duty if they just “bought Congress a subscription to the Wall Street Journal.” No president has taken advantage of the ambiguity of the Constitution, however, and have all only given a speech before the legislative body.
Biden’s speech touched on many policy points but seemed to have a focus around the current economic situation and bipartisan legislative work. Throughout the speech, he mentioned the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the reduction of inflation over the past year.
“Inflation has fallen every month for the last six months while take home pay has gone up,” Biden told listeners.
The president boasted about many of the actions he believes helped create jobs and bring down inflation from a height of 9.1% last June. For example, Biden discussed the CHIPS and Science Act, which supports tech manufacturing industries that would eventually reduce the cost of electronics in cars, home appliances and computers. Biden also remarked on the Inflation Reduction Act which permits Medicare to negotiate drug prices and cap the cost of insulin at $35. The law also capped drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000.
“If drug prices rise faster than inflation, drug companies will have to pay Medicare back the difference,” Biden said.
The president was applauded many times by fellow Democrats but did not enjoy the same support from Republicans. In one part of his speech, Biden accused “some” Republicans of wanting to allow Social Security and Medicare to end every five years, forcing Congress to vote on whether it should continue or not. The comment was aimed at Senator Rick Scott’s (R-FL) 11-point plan, which includes sunsetting all federal laws after five years.
This accusation was responded with jeers from almost every member of Congress in the room. Democrats were shouting in support of protecting the programs while Republicans were angry that the President even suggested that they would consider ending them. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a prominent far-right Republican, screamed “Liar!” at the president from the back rows of the room.
What is more interesting, however, are the issues that Biden barely mentioned during his speech.
After the June Supreme Court decision repealing Roe v. Wade, many states rushed to restrict abortion access, actions Biden is having trouble fighting against. In the State of the Union, Biden only mentioned the issue once in a section about rights and freedoms, calling on Congress to codify abortion access.
Biden also talked very little about environmental issues and progress on his administration’s energy policy. In a very short section, Biden boasted about the construction of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations but did not mention any other transition to clean energy. The president did make a forceful statement on climate change, saying that “the climate crisis doesn’t care if your state is red or blue. It is an existential threat.”
The State of the Union is usually a way for the president to announce new policy initiatives for the coming year. Throughout the speech Biden alluded to policy areas that have only been given half-measures as solutions. Without fail, the president said “let's finish the job” in every policy section. It is unclear how he will take his speech and attempt to affect the legislative agenda this year. Will he continue to work with Republicans, or will he attempt to push forward policy alone? While this is uncertain, Biden has a lot of work to do in order to create policy that tackles today’s many problems.