Last night’s State of the Union address was the first in President Biden’s term without Covid restrictions, and the gallery was filled to the brim for the first time since 2020. The narrow margins of party control of each chamber lent to very politically divided andcharged audience, with overt reactions to the President’s remarks. Our Vice Chairman, former Republican Congressman Tom Reed and Senior Advisor, MartyPaone, who was a long-time Democratic Secretary of the Senate analyze the speech and implications, from their respective partisan lenses.
Democratic Response: MartyPaone
President Biden entered the speech with some of the best economic numbers of any President – the lowest unemployment rate since 1969 with 12 million jobs added, including 800,000 manufacturing jobs, in his first two years. However, polling numbers show thereis a long way to go before the positive effects filter down to the general public. The recent Chinese balloon imbroglio threatened to take center stage, but it did not.
His heartfelt enthusiasm for the efforts to rebuild the middle class through economic and healthcare policies and his determination to restore faith in our Democracy by supporting votingrights for all Americans came forth in his delivery. Programs to assist Veterans, improve the delivery of their healthcare, and reduce their suiciderates are already showing results and will continue in the next two years. He promised increased efforts to stem the influx of fentanyl at our borders. He condemned police brutality in the recent killing of Tyre Nichols but asked forsupport for police reforms rather than defunding the police. He called for therestoration of Roe v. Wade and additional protections for women’s reproductive rights. He repeated his support for a ‘moonshot’ effort to eradicate cancer. Henoted the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the increase in domestic jobs because of thebipartisan CHIPS bill. The effects of the massive infrastructure bill and the CHIPS bill will take time to sift down to parts of the country that were left behind, but he promised that the benefits of these programs will be far-reaching.
Biden acknowledged that many of his legislative accomplishments had bipartisan support and stated that he will continue to strive for bipartisan solutions to address the issues ahead,realizing governing by Executive Order can too easily be undone by the next administration. He was clear that dealing with the debt limit will not involve cuts to Social Security or Medicare. When he noted that some Republicans want to make such cuts, there were audible shouts of “No!” from Republicans. He pivoted, with a smile, and said, “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare, off the books now, right?”
He touched very little on foreign policy, instead attempting to reach out to those worried about their finances while calling for billionaires and big corporations to pay their fair share oftaxes. He enjoyed sparring with those who want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, promising them a quick veto. While it may not get traction with those struggling to make ends meet, he laid out a good case as to why he cared more for them and their struggles than anyone else.
Republican Response: Tom Reed
In his address last night,President Biden pandered to the extremes controlling the Democratic party, and Republicans countered with outbursts that pandered to the extremes controlling their party. State of the Union addresses are no longer substantive but areinstead a production of political theater.
President Biden began the speech with direct references to bipartisanship and compromise. He recognizes the mood and feelings of the American people, and if those overtures are genuine then this is an unabashed good. However, if instead the President is merely stakingout a political position of bipartisanship while promoting a partisan agenda,the American people will not benefit.
The specific policy positions presented by President Biden can fall broadly into one of two categories, legitimate bipartisan goals and blue meat for the base. Given the overtures to bipartisanship, one might reasonably expect that realistic goals would dominate the President’s speech; however, there was far more blue meat meant to embolden and excite the far-left.
A call to tax the wealthy to getthem to pay their fair share is good politics in the Democratic party. It also ignores the reality of accounting and consistency with a constitutional income tax system. With a Republican House and a slim majority in the Senate, this proposal can firmly be classified as blue meat and does not have a realistic chance of any meaningful action. Federal action on abortion and a ban on assault rifles were additional pieces of blue meat. These policies are popular with the far left base, but have no chance of bipartisan compromise.
The President did open some doors for bipartisan compromise with the chance of substantial action or legislation. Immigration has long been a hot button topic that each side of the aisle wants to address in piecemeal fashion, but with their priorities as the first piece. This, of course, leads to distrust that once one step is enacted, then the priorities of the other side will be ignored. There will be limited opportunities for a small immigration bill where both sides have policy wins and sacrifices.
More prevalent in the national consciousness is police reform, another area with room for bipartisan compromise. Both sides are looking for an opportunity to purge police forces ofbad actors, and President Biden knows it. He has the chance to lean into abipartisan approach or concede to political warfare on a hot button issue.
While the opportunities for bipartisan compromise on the heels of this speech are slim, the President and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle must have the drive to make it happen. In recent years the spectacle of disagreement, from Nancy Pelosipublicly tearing a previous State of the Union speech in half, to the public proclamation that the scourge of fentanyl is President Biden’s fault, has dominated political discourse. If our leaders can lean into bipartisanship and work towards limited areas of compromise, then our country will be moving inthe right direction. If instead they retreat to their partisan corners in aneffort to score political points and accomplish nothing of substance, then the state of our union will fall into further disarray.