WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden goes before Congress Tuesday night for his State of the Union address, he will continue his plea for lawmakers to pass his sprawling domestic policy bill — just don’t call it the “Build Back Better Act.”
The stalled legislation has been the centerpiece of Biden’s agenda, a single multitrillion-dollar solution to a range of problems afflicting the country, from climate change, to jobs, to child poverty. But with inflation raging, senior administration officials suggested Monday that Biden would put more emphasis on proposals to reduce federal budget deficits.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, noticeably avoided the “Build Back Better” brand during a Monday conference call previewing the speech, saying the president would ask Congress to pass “a piece of legislation” addressing economic problems facing American families.
“It’s not about the name of the bill,” a senior official said, when asked if Biden would talk about Build Back Better. “It’s about the ideas. It’s about lowering costs for families. You can expect to hear the president talk about those ideas.”
In his State of the Union Address, Biden will talk about the war in Ukraine, officials said, but will still devote significant time to domestic policy, announcing new initiatives to investigate the global shipping industry and crack down on unsafe nursing homes. Biden will also talk about proposals that sound a lot like Build Back Better.
“President Biden will call on Congress to send him legislation that lowers costs of everyday expenses working families face and lowers the deficit by rewarding work, not wealth,” the White House said in a statement previewing the speech. “He will lay out specific, practical measures that would reduce costs for families right now, including prescription drug costs and health care premiums, child care and pre-k costs, and energy costs.”
Key components of Build Back Better sought to cut prescription drug prices, health care premiums and child care costs. But Democrats emphasized the potentially transformative nature of the proposed intervention, saying the bill would go down in history as an achievement rivaling the Social Security Act of 1935.
In his address to a joint session of Congress in April 2021, for instance, Biden described his American Families Plan as a “once-in-a-generation investment in our families and our children” on par with the creation of universal public schooling in the previous century.
Democrats eventually rebranded what Biden described as the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan as one bill they named Build Back Better. The bill stalled last year after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he couldn’t support it amid surging prices, arguing further spending would worsen inflation.
The White House’s new emphasis on deficit reduction seems designed to win Manchin over.
Biden on Tuesday will call on Congress to reduce the federal budget deficit, something Manchin has said should be a priority. As part of Build Back Better, Democrats had proposed an array of tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans, including a partial reversal of tax cuts Republicans enacted in 2017. But the tax increases merely covered the cost of the bill’s spending provisions, whereas Manchin wanted some of the increased revenue to simply reduce the federal budget deficit.
Higher taxes can fight inflation by leaving businesses and individuals with less money to spend on goods and services.
In his address, the White House said, Biden will talk about the same tax ideas Democrats introduced last year, outlining “proposals to make sure corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share, while making clear that no one making under $400,000 a year should see their taxes increased.”