- In his first joint remarks before Congress Wednesday, President Biden reflected on his initial 100 days in office and pressed the legislature to move forward with a large expansion of government spending.
- Biden argued that his two cornerstone proposals, the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and the $1.8 American Families Plan, are necessary to support the American people and allow the U.S. to compete with foreign nations.
- Democrats largely applauded his remarks and reiterated their support for Biden’s plans, but Republicans accused the president of betraying his promise to seek compromise by promoting “radical” policies that will further divide America.
Biden Outlines Cornerstone Policies
President Joe Biden gave his first joint speech before Congress Wednesday night, delivering remarks on the eve of completing his first 100 days in office.
The president relayed the 65-minute long speech while flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who made history by marking the first-ever time that two women have sat behind the president during a congressional address.
Biden opened by reflecting on his first 100 days in office during a pandemic, noting how far the country has come in regards to vaccinations, and striking an optimistic tone.
“Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” he said. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”
However, the president also argued that progress needed to be followed up with a dramatic expansion of government services, and he called on Congress to embrace his vision.
“America is moving. Moving forward. And we can’t stop now,” he said. “We’re in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better.”
As for how Biden will achieve that goal, he spent much of his speech detailing his two big plans. The first is the $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal he unveiled last month, which includes $621 billion for transportation projects like bridges, roads, mass transit, and electric vehicle development, among other things.
The second is the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which was rolled out hours before the address and largely aims to expand safety-net programs, as well as access to education.
In total, Biden outlined nearly $6 trillion in proposed spending, though $4 trillion is on top of what Congress has already approved under the last stimulus package.
Plea for Bipartisan Support
While acknowledging his plans may seem like a tall order to his Republican colleagues, Biden framed his policy aims as necessary to compete with other countries and argued that the U.S. should provide these policies because it is falling behind globally.
The president encouraged Republicans to share their ideas and said he was open to compromise, but he indicated he would take action without them if necessary.
“The rest of the world isn’t waiting for us,” he said. “I just want to be clear. From my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”
Biden specifically singled out China and its president, Xi Jinping, as key challengers to American competition and global democratic values.
“He’s deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world,” Biden said of Xi. “He and other autocrats think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies — it takes too long to get consensus. To win that competition for the future, in my view, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children.”
The president also closed his speech by circling back to the need for American democracy to compete with authoritarian governments. While he did not directly mention former President Donald Trump, he did tie the Jan 6. insurrection to rising authoritarianism in other parts of the world, and he emphasized the need for the U.S. to set an example to counter that trend through its agenda at home.
“In closing, as we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol, desecrating our democracy, remain vivid in all our minds,” he said. “The insurrection was an existential crisis –- a test of whether our democracy could survive. And it did.”
“Autocrats will not win the future. We will,” Biden continued. “America will. And the future belongs to America.”
While Democrats largely praised Biden’s agenda and reiterated their support for his plans, Republicans condemned the president for proposing what they said were “radical” plans and failing to united people.
That narrative was also echoed in the formal rebuttal to Biden’s address, which was given by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican senator, who accused the president of giving up on his promise to seek compromise in favor of a partisan agenda.
Scott claimed that many of the actions Biden touted had been achieved under GOP control, and that Trump and Republicans are to thank for the pandemic finally turning a corner.
“Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines,” he stated. “Thanks to our bipartisan work last year, job openings are rebounding.”
The senator also called Biden’s infrastructure plan “a liberal wish list of big-government waste,” and made similar remarks about the families plan before accusing Biden of “abandoning principles he held for decades.”
“Nowhere do we need common ground more desperately than in our discussions of race,” he added. He went on to detail all the racism he has faced but added, “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination.”
Scott appeared to then imply that the expansion of voting rights Biden and Democrats are pushing in response to state election bills are a form of discrimination, while also fervently defending the widely criticized Georgia voting bill.
“This is not about civil rights or our racial past. It’s about rigging elections in the future,” he said, before concluding, “Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you, the American people.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.