Washington (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a sweeping $1.8 trillion package for families and education in his first joint speech to Congress on Wednesday, as he stresses the need to invest to compete with China, senior White House officials say.
Biden is expected to use the national speech to argue that the new package – which when coupled with an earlier infrastructure and jobs plan totals around $4 trillion, rivaling the annual federal budget – is vital to America’s future.
The U.S. president will also plead directly with lawmakers to pass legislation to curb police violence, senior administration officials say. Biden will highlight repeated police killings of Black citizens and years of entrenched racism, while also honoring the service of the vast majority of officers.
The plan to be detailed on Wednesday includes $1 trillion in new spending over ten years on education and child care, and $800 billion in tax credits aimed at middle and low income families, according to senior White House officials.
“These are about the highest value economic investments we can make for our future economic competitiveness,” said one senior administration official. Another official described it as a “once-in-a-generation investment.”
Republican lawmakers have already rejected the over $2 trillion infrastructure plan as too large. The Democratic president is gambling that his spending plans, which are largely popular with American voters, can sway Republicans in Congress to cooperate with the White House.
To pay for the plans, Biden has proposed an overhaul of the U.S. tax system. Wednesday’s ‘American Families Plan’ is funded by raising the top marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent and nearly doubling the tax on investment income – known as capital gains – for Americans who earn more than $1 million. The proposed infrastructure plan is funded by corporate tax.
News of the tax proposal briefly sank stock markets last week.
Biden will use his speech to signal openness to bipartisan compromise on policing, speaking positively about negotiations on a reform bill in Congress. Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is set to give his party’s rebuttal to Biden’s speech, with police reform expected to be among the topics.
In addition to police reform, Biden will discuss foreign affairs, how his administration has handled the coronavirus pandemic and the status of vaccinations.
One senior Congressional aide said Biden is expected to “come out hard on China,” noting frequent calls to take a harder line against Beijing from both Republicans and Democrats.
In his decades in elected office, Biden attended dozens of his predecessors’ joint addresses to the U.S. Congress. The scene he faces when he takes the podium at the House of Representatives will look very different.
Just 200 people, mostly lawmakers plus a handful of representatives of other arms of government and select family members, will attend the masked, socially distanced speech, in a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is a far cry from the 1,600 officials, friends and guests who typically gather for a presidential speech.
But the speech’s target audience is much larger than the reduced-sized crowd on Capitol Hill. It will be broadcast nationwide, and some 48 million people watched Biden predecessor Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session, in 2017.
The American Families Plan and the over $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan that the White House introduced this month could represent the most significant government transformation of the economy in decades.
The plan being unveiled on Wednesday includes $200 billion for free, universal preschool for three- and four-year olds and $109 billion for free community college regardless of income for two years, according to senior White House officials.
It proposes $225 billion in funding to help parents pay for child care and boost the pay of child care workers. Families would pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for children under 5, saving the average family $14,800 per year on child care expenses, senior White House officials say.
The investments will be fully paid over a period of 15 years, an administration official said.
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