After First 100 Days, President Biden to Unveil Next Steps in Joint Address

President Joe Biden is set to unveil another massive relief plan targeting childcare and education to a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening.

President Joe Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021, about withdrawing the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, where he is expected to unveil a $1.8 trillion plan that features significant investments in childcare, paid family leave, and education.

The address arrives as the 46th president rings in his first 100 days in office, a time that has largely been consumed by the administration’s push to inoculate as many Americans as possible to end the spread of the novel coronavirus. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, the virus has killed over 575,000 in the United States and has infected over 32 million people.

The Biden administration has moved at a breakneck pace to administer vaccines to over 200 million American adults. While former President Donald Trump’s administration facilitated the development of the vaccine itself, it is the Biden White House that rolled out a winning strategy delivering vaccines across the country’s many, and often convoluted, health systems. As of this month, the U.S. is administering an average of roughly three million shots daily.

In addition to commemorating the solemn achievements reached during this deadly pandemic, the president is also expected to outline his administration’s latest proposal: the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion package meant to reinvigorate the nation’s economy while promoting greater equity for families and people of color.

The massive plan follows the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March after intense negotiations and a vote that took nearly 12 hours to complete. Despite resistance from Republican lawmakers — the bill narrowly squeaked through the Senate in a 50-49 vote — Democrats were able to pass the plan through a process known as reconciliation, which only required a simple majority in favor instead of the 60 votes typically required under Senate rules to pass a law.  

The maneuver set many Republican and moderate Democrat lawmakers alight and Biden has been regularly criticized on Capitol Hill for being less amenable to negotiating with the GOP than he vowed at his inauguration.

But during Wednesday evening’s address, the president will not focus on insider politicking or divisions. Instead, he is expected to hail the fruits of the first rescue plan — which included $1,400 checks issued to 161 million and extended unemployment benefits — while calling for even more investment as the nation rebuilds its faltering economy just more than a year after the pandemic began.

Under the president’s proposed American Families Plan, low- and middle-income families would pay no more than 7% of their total income on childcare for kids under five.  The plan also calls for investing $200 billion into universal preschool for all three- and four-year-old children, and seeks to increase childcare workers’ wages to $15 an hour. The universal preschool program could save the typical family over $10,000 annually.

States would be expected to pay for about half of preschool expenses; the federal government would cough up the rest. And these particular benefits are not limited by an income threshold — all American children, from all incomes, are eligible.

The plan also includes two years of free community college for all Americans, to the tune of $109 billion. The White House estimates that once implemented, and with full participation across the states, more than five million students would attend college for free. Under the plan, the federal government would cover up to 75% of tuition costs, and states would pay the remainder.

Congress would also be asked to shore up resources for new teachers by appropriating $2.8 billion for teacher residency programs across the U.S. and $900 billion just for special education instructors.

Centering attention on communities of color, the administration also proposes forming a near $40 billion fund that would pay for two years of tuition for students enrolled at four-year historically Black colleges or universities and whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. Some $400 million would be earmarked just for teacher training initiatives at HBCUs.

The plan would also revamp how much financial aid students can receive through Pell grants. Where students can now only receive as much as about $6,500 for the current academic year, Biden has proposed doubling that amount.

About 29 million hungry kids who received free school meals under 2020’s pandemic relief programs will see another round of investments under the proposal. Biden wants to see the fund made permanent and vested, before the end of summer, with $25 billion.

The American Families Plan also provides for 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family leave or personal leave. According to the White House, the 12 weeks of paid leave could be used for caretaking, illness, dealing with family members’ military deployment or even healing from sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence. But that measure would not kick in for about a decade; under the proposal, it will not take effect until the plan is in its 10th year. If passed, the package does, in its first year on the books, secure three days of bereavement per year for every worker.

Tax credits for children extended this March would be locked in for four more years, and the plan makes permanent an expansion of the earned income credit for workers without kids.

The administration proposes paying for its litany of programs by taxing the very rich — or those in the top 1% — by reversing one of the Trump administration’s crowning achievements and returning the corporate tax rate to 39.6% from 37%.

Estates of the deceased will also be expected to pay taxes on any unrealized gains exceeding $1 million per individual or $2.5 million per couple. Family-run businesses and farms are exempt, however, from paying taxes when bequeathing an estate to someone who will keep that operation running.

And tax dodgers in sky-high income brackets will feel a squeeze, too. The president proposes giving the IRS a whopping $80 billion to strengthen its enforcement among the nation’s wealthiest earners. How much could be brought in from stricter enforcement is debatable, but the White House suggests it could generate $700 billion.

Biden’s address will mark the first time lawmakers have appeared for a joint session since the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. It also marks another milestone: this is the first time in U.S. history that two women will be seated behind the president for a joint address.

This story is developing.

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