NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

President Biden challenges Congress to help him “finish the job” of getting America back on track in upbeat State of the Union address

An upbeat Pres­i­dent Joe Biden deployed his ground game in tonight’s 2023 State of the Union address, deliv­er­ing a speech fea­tur­ing a set of pro­pos­als to strength­en the eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty of the mid­dle class and rec­og­niz­ing that the coun­try is tired of impasse, anger and divi­sion in its nation­al government.

The forty-sixth pres­i­dent did not try to equal the soar­ing elo­quence of Barack Oba­ma and did not come near the windy self-absorp­tion of Don­ald Trump. The speech was lengthy – one hour and twelve min­utes by this writer’s count – but demon­strat­ed that eighty-two year-old Biden still has enthu­si­asm and drive.

“Amid the eco­nom­ic upheaval of the past four decades too many peo­ple have been left behind or treat­ed like they’re invis­i­ble: Maybe that’s you watch­ing at home,” said Biden. “I get that. That’s why we’re build­ing an econ­o­my where no one is left behind.”

He laid out a pro­gram in a chal­lenge to Repub­li­cans, who have none and are embroiled in cul­ture wars. It was a relat­able, under­stand­able, con­nect­ing speech.

The President’s mantra? “Fin­ish the job!”

His agen­da? To name a few planks: Build on the cap in insulin costs to Medicare recip­i­ents, enact­ed in last year’s Infla­tion Reduc­tion Act, by cap­ping costs for all Amer­i­cans. Bring pre­scrip­tion drug prices under con­trol. And stop the fleec­ing of Amer­i­can con­sumers through manip­u­la­tion of air­line fares, “ser­vice fees” for no dis­cernible ser­vice, and “resort fees” by hotels that are not resorts.

A native of Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia, Biden dwelt on restor­ing Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing. He cit­ed such mea­sures as the CHIPS and Sci­ence Act, which prompt­ed Intel to cre­ate 10,000 jobs in Colum­bus, Ohio. He spoke of restor­ing the Ohio Riv­er bridge link­ing Ken­tucky and Ohio, where a $1.2 bil­lion upgrade is under­way thanks to the Infra­struc­ture Invest­ment and Jobs Act.

Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell, R‑Kentucky, joined Biden at the bridge ded­i­ca­tion. The pres­i­dent used McConnell’s pres­ence in what was a cen­tral theme and gam­bit, call­ing for coop­er­a­tion and goad­ing the far-right which has gained influ­ence in the regime of House Speak­er Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy sat glum­ly behind the president.

President Biden delivering the 2023 State of the Union

Pres­i­dent Biden speaks to Con­gress with Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris and Speak­er Kevin McCarthy behind him (Offi­cial White House photo)

“To my Repub­li­can friends, if we could work togeth­er in the last Con­gress, there is no rea­son we can’t work togeth­er and find con­sen­sus on impor­tant things in this Con­gress,” said Biden. “The peo­ple sent us a clear mes­sage. Fight­ing for the sake of fight­ing, pow­er for the sake of pow­er, con­flict for the sake of con­flict, gets us nowhere.”

The speech infu­ri­at­ed haters among House Repub­li­cans. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene, R‑Georgia, could be heard shout­ing “Liar!” Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz, R‑Texas, shook his head and tweet­ed: “It was an angry, divi­sive and fun­da­men­tal­ly dis­hon­est speech.” Added Sen­a­tor Mar­sha Black­burn, R‑Tennessee, “The Amer­i­can peo­ple aren’t buy­ing Biden’s revi­sion­ist his­to­ry of the economy.”

But the coun­try is work­ing again. Biden savored the fact that 12 mil­lion jobs have been cre­at­ed on his watch, and that unem­ploy­ment at 3.4% is at a fifty year low. He point­ed to 800,000 new man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs, and said the nation’s sup­ply chain will again “begin in America.”

Angry? Biden toyed with Repub­li­cans who have threat­ened to block rais­ing the debt ceil­ing and demand­ed deep bud­get cuts as a price.

“We’re not going to be moved into being threat­ened to default on the debt,” said the pres­i­dent, cit­ing threats to take the Amer­i­can econ­o­my hostage.

He seized upon a pro­pos­al by Sen­a­tor Rick Scott, R‑Florida, that all fed­er­al pro­grams should sun­set every five years and face renew­al by Congress.

That includes Medicare and Social Secu­ri­ty, said Biden.

Angry shouts and denials came from Repub­li­can House members.

Biden is not a regal leader. He appeared to enjoy him­self, jok­ing that the reac­tion showed that every­one was in agree­ment that the nation’s social con­tract should not be pierced. This made the far right even angrier.

After all, more than one hun­dred and forty ultra MAGA House Repub­li­cans vot­ed against cer­ti­fy­ing his 2020 elec­tion victory.

The Pres­i­dent took par­tic­u­lar delight in not­ing that many Repub­li­cans vot­ed against the bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture bill, but are now clam­or­ing for and claim­ing cred­it for projects in their districts.

“I promised to be the pres­i­dent for all Amer­i­cans,” he quipped. “We’ll fund these projects and I’ll see you at the groundbreaking.”

The right’s reac­tion was vis­i­bly ugly to some viewers.

“The behav­ior of a siz­able group of Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors tonight was out­ra­geous and dis­gust­ing,” tweet­ed Lar­ry Saba­to, direc­tor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Virginia’s Insti­tute of Pol­i­tics. “Their scream­ing and cat­call­ing at the Pres­i­dent was obscene. Free speech? Sure. Deco­rum and cour­tesy. Dead.”

The Repub­li­cans’ bag­gage and visions were dis­played at times. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive George San­tos, R‑New York — he of vast lies on his resume — found a place next to the aisle as lumi­nar­ies entered the cham­ber. He got a sharp rebuke from Sen­a­tor Mitt Rom­ney, R‑Utah, who lat­er said of San­tos: “He shouldn’t be in Con­gress. And they’re gonna go through the process of hope­ful­ly get­ting him out. But he shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.”

When Biden tout­ed U.S. defense of Ukraine, and the alliance that has sent bil­lions in mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic assis­tance, some Repub­li­cans joined in ova­tions, while oth­ers sat in stony silence. The inva­sion was, in Biden’s words, “a test for the ages. A test for Amer­i­ca. A test for the world.”

A copy of Biden's 2023 SOTU speech

A copy of Pres­i­dent Biden’s State of the Union address, open to the first page pri­or to its deliv­ery (Offi­cial White House photo)

Wash­ing­ton’s con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion played a not incon­sid­er­able role in the achieve­ments tout­ed by Biden as bring­ing Amer­i­ca back from the pan­dem­ic that has claimed more than one mil­lion lives and, for a time, vir­tu­al­ly shut down the economy.

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, man­aged the CHIPS and Sci­ence Act with hopes of restor­ing microchip man­u­fac­tur­ing, large­ly lost to Asia.

The admin­is­tra­tion has deliv­ered “his­toric invest­ments in our infra­struc­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing, sci­ence and inno­va­tion,” she said in a statement.

“We must build on that progress and turn those invest­ments into real solu­tions that will make our nation and our man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pet­i­tive, bring more good-pay­ing jobs back to Amer­i­ca, and build a resilient econ­o­my for the future.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑Washington, chairs the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, charged with retak­ing the House by tak­ing advan­tage of the boor­ish right-wing cra­zies and Speak­er McCarthy’s many con­ces­sions to them.

“Pres­i­dent Biden empha­sized the urgent need to renew the expand­ed Child Tax Cred­it that cut child­hood pover­ty in half and ben­e­fit­ed mil­lions of chil­dren nation­wide,” said Del­Bene. “The invest­ment kept fam­i­lies afloat dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and helped par­ents pay bills, put enough food on the table, and afford oth­er expens­es for their kids, like child care and diapers.”

Biden deliv­ered a strong speech and was on his game. It was a down-to-earth speech direct­ed to mil­lions of watch­ers beyond the House chamber.

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