President Joe Biden proposed a sweeping new $1.8 trillion plan in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, pleading with Republican lawmakers to work with him on divisive issues and to meet the stiff competition posed by China.
Pushing a vision of more government investment funded by the wealthy, the Democratic president urged Republicans who have so far resolutely opposed him to help pass a wide array of contentious legislation from taxes to police reform to gun control and immigration.
Republicans largely sat silently during the speech while Democrats applauded as Biden spoke.
Biden, who took office in January, also made an impassioned plea to raise taxes on corporations and rich Americans to help pay for his $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan”.
“It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share – just pay their fair share,” Biden said.
He made his plea in the House of Representatives at an event scaled back this year because of the pandemic, removing his mask to speak to a group of about 200 hundred Democratic and Republican lawmakers, other officials and guests.
Biden is trying to thread the needle between Republicans opposed to more spending and the tax increases needed to pay for it, and liberal Democrats who want him to push for more aggressive plans.
He said he was willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come to an agreement, and he is to meet top Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the White House on May 12 to try to find common ground.
Whether Biden can truly bring Republicans across a deep partisan divide is far from clear, with Congress polarized and Democrats holding only narrow majorities.
He had promised throughout the 2020 presidential campaign to work with Republicans, but his major legislative achievement, a $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus plan, passed without a Republican vote.
Republicans in Congress already have their eyes on making gains in the midterm congressional elections in 2022, and are aligning a divided party around opposing Biden. Many question the wisdom of embracing spending policies that are more aggressive than most of Biden’s allies or rivals had expected.
The White House is hoping that at least some Republicans will bend to popular will. Polls show most Americans support increased investment in schools, education, and infrastructure, and taxing the rich more.
The initial Republican response to his speech was skeptical, and somewhat dismissive.
“This whole thing could have just been an email,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, said in a tweet.
The Democratic left wing, on the other hand, wanted more. U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman, a liberal Democrat, said Biden’s proposal are important “but don’t go as big as we’d truly need in order to solve the crisis of jobs, climate and care.”
Speaking less than four months after demonstrators loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn the election results, Biden said America was “on the move again.”