Biden’s speech to Congress: Cradle-to-grave liberalism or popular fixes to festering problems?

After 98 days in the White House, President Joe Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. Deputy Editorial Page Editor David Mastio and Commentary Editor Jill Lawrence watched the 65-minute speech and had strikingly different reactions to what the president said. 

David: Donald Trump is gone, but Washington is still stuck on abnormal. Joe Biden has brought back low-key competence and along with it a sense of calm, yet I can’t wrap my mind around a speech to a joint session of Congress centered on plans to spend $6 trillion and change in addition to the regular budget.

Biden’s speech tonight made it seem all so reasonable and normal. His tone was folksy and quiet. He only repeated one falsehood from the Washington Post’s list of Biden’s first 100 days misleading claims. But at its core, Biden proposed a cradle to grave liberalism that is shocking in its ambition. From pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds to home care for grandma, every stage of life can be improved with a dollop of federal largesse. And we can afford it all with no sacrifice. We just need big business and the rich to pay their “fair share” and stop cheating on their taxes.

President Biden urges Congress to do this by George Floyd's birthday. (Photo: USA TODAY)

This is looney tunes. The American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan must inevitably come with costs, unintended consequences and misfires. Federal money always comes with strings. If Biden gets his way, we’ll be sorting out the wreckage for decades.

Jill: I experienced the same contrast in style and substance as you, but where you see a shockingly ambitious liberal agenda, I see a popular corrective to decades of neglect. Decades of starving the government and enriching the rich while ignoring structural racism, gun violence, immigration problems and income inequality so severe it undercuts our ownership of upward mobility and the American Dream.

If Biden gets even half of this done, and I hope he gets it all, he will have FIXED decades of wreckage.

It is absolutely refreshing to hear a Democrat just go for it, making the argument for why each component is reasonable and necessary for the future of our families and the country overall. Just like Republicans did when they kept talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act when Barack Obama was president.

I realize Biden’s plans are expensive, but a lot of this can be paid for by restoring a fairer tax system. And, of course, the economic growth that Republicans always promise but rarely if ever deliver. Biden’s plans have got to work better than trickle-down economics. They help people who need help, not those who are already wealthy and usually forget to trickle anything down.

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