Biden Expected To Pitch New Benefits For Families During First Address To Congress

Andrew Harnik/AP
President Joe Biden speaks before signing the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Washington.

President Joe Biden gives his first joint address to Congress tonight. It will be a moment to reflect on his first 100 days in office, but Biden will also use it to outline what's next for the country as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said he hopes to hear how Biden will invest in the American people and in infrastructure. He will likely get his wish.

Biden is expected to unveil his American Families Plan. A senior administration official described it as a “once in a generation investment” in American children and families.

The plan would give people at least four years of free education: two years of pre-K and two years of free community college for those who choose to attend. It’s intended to make college more affordable for low- and middle-income students, including at historically Black institutions and at Tribal Colleges and Universities.

It also extends some tax cuts for families and American workers.  The child tax credit exemption would increase to $3,600 for kids five and under, plus $3,000 per kid ages 6 to 17. That expansion would run through 2025.

The credit is something that Bennet has fought for. While he called Biden’s plan an “historic investment in the American people,” he added the country needs to go a step further and make the child tax credit expansion permanent.

To that end, Bennet has invited Ambrosia Berg as his virtual guest for the joint address. She's a single mother from Boulder who will benefit from the child tax credit.

“As a single mom who has worked hard to put herself through college and raise a child, I will have more money each month to cover my bills, buy groceries, make sure my son has the appropriate materials for school, and have all of our necessities met to make it through the pandemic,” she said.

Biden is also calling on Congress to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit and the expanded Affordable Care Act premiums tax credits. His proposals include investments in teachers,  a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program and an expanded school meal program to help low-income children through the summer.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse said one of his priorities has been making sure food banks have “the resources to meet the needs of our hungry kids and families.” He’s invited Suzanne Crawford, CEO of Sister Carmen Community Center, a Boulder Food Bank owner, as his virtual guest.

“Throughout a tough year, our local food banks have provided consistent and heroic support to our communities, shuttling federal COVID-19 relief funds to Coloradans in need and ramping up operations to ensure no one was left behind,” Neguse said. “Supporting the health and well being of Colorado kids and families must begin by ensuring that everyone has food on their table, our food banks and long-term federal investments in nutrition assistance programs are critical to that effort.”

Biden wants to pay for the plan through tax reform, specifically by closing loopholes for high-income Americans. He’s also proposed raising the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans back to 39.6 percent, combined with ending the capital income tax break for households making over $1 million. A senior administration official said the president is open to other ideas and approaches.

That’s something some Republicans say they want to hear from Biden — how he plans to work with them in a bipartisan manner.

 “I want to hear him outline clearly a commitment to bipartisanship in pursuing the remainder of his agenda,” said GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Others like Sen. Josh Hawley, who led the objection to the 2020 election certification in the Senate, has a more critical view of Biden’s first 100 days. “This has been 100 days that is completely focused on this far left radical base and I hope I'm talking about something that that Americans actually are concerned about,” he said.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott will give the Republican reply.

The pandemic will make this year’s address different from past ones. Not all members of Congress will be able to attend in person. So far, of Colorado’s delegation, only Neguse and Sen. John Hickenlooper have said they will watch from the chamber. House members are not in Washington, D.C. this week, but a number of Colorado representatives said they will be watching from home.

Rep. Jason Crow is planning a socially distanced watch party in his district with a number of guests, including gun violence prevention advocates, a business owner who received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program and Sheneen McClain, Elijah McClain’s mother.

Rep. Diana DeGette said her virtual guest will be U.S. Postal Worker John Woolley. “Our letter carriers are some of the true unsung heroes of this pandemic,” she said.

Whether members watch virtually or in the chamber, it’s unclear how much support Biden will receive when it’s time for Congress to vote. Colorado’s congressional delegation has been a microcosm of the divided Congress, with Democrats generally supportive of Biden’s calls for massive investments and Republicans critical of the price tag and extraneous spending included in the packages.

CPR’s coverage of Colorado’s congressional delegation focuses on accountability and on providing information constituents need to live their lives. Read more about our priorities here.