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What President Biden Is Pitching In His Address To Congress

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A traditional speech all new presidents give - the joint address to Congress. It's going to look really different tonight because of the coronavirus. Only 200 people will be in the House chamber when President Biden speaks. Usually, it's eight times that. Biden will pitch his nearly $2 trillion American Families Plan to the nation. But the most critical audience right now is lawmakers who have to try and pass it first. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here.

Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So just to remind, this plan is in addition to Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, and it comes just weeks after he signed into law the $1.9 trillion COVID-related stimulus bill. This is - I mean, it's staggering. It's so much money. Does Congress believe it's necessary?

DAVIS: Well, I think two things to keep in mind when you're looking at this democratic embrace of spending. And one is the former Trump administration, under which - you know, when Republicans were in control, they cut taxes, they raised spending and they added significantly to the deficit, which I think in this moment has weakened the Republican's political standing to be seen as deficit hawks here.

And then on the other side, you have the pandemic, obviously. I mean, Democrats have been really clear for all along that the pandemic has exposed these inequities in basically every aspect of American life. And as we've seen with all of the earlier COVID relief measures that have been passed and have been really popular, the public seems to have more support of a bigger government role in their lives right now.

It's really a striking contrast if you think back to where the Democratic Party was during the Clinton era. In 1996, when Clinton was addressing Congress, he had this famous moment where he declared the era of big government over. Tonight, President Biden is essentially saying to Congress, big government is back.

KELLY: All right. So let's look at this new plan. What is in the American Families Plan? Who would it affect the most?

DAVIS: I mean, Biden is trying to rewrite the social contract. It aims to reduce poverty in the country and provide more of a safety net for the middle class. It would guarantee that low- and middle-income families pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for their kids under 5. Administration says this would save the average family about $15,000 a year on child care.

It would also mandate more free education for all Americans on the front and back end. So there would be universal pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds and then two years of free community college after high school. It would also guarantee to all workers over the course of about a decade 12 weeks of paid family leave to deal with things like the birth of a child or taking care of a sick parent.

KELLY: Speaking of paid, does Biden have a plan to pay for all this?

DAVIS: He does. It's mostly through tax increases on the wealthy. It would raise the rates on people who make over half a million dollars a year in tax, things like investments and other wealth. Separately, Biden has said he wants to pay for his infrastructure plan by raising corporate tax rates. He has boxed himself in a little politically on this tax issue because he's made repeated campaign promises that he wouldn't raise taxes for people who make less than $400,000 dollars a year, which is about 95% of the country.

KELLY: So how hard is this going to be to get through Congress?

DAVIS: I think it's going to be incredibly hard. You know, Biden is unlikely to get much, if any, Republican support for this. His administration, I would say, is continuing to have talks with Senate Republicans, at least on the infrastructure component. I want to note that Republican Senator Tim Scott's going to give the party's response tonight, so we might get some more indication of how they're feeling about the Family Plan there.

But Democrats are prepared to go it alone if they have to. There's still a lot of disagreement among Democrats over what else should be in this package. One thing, one example that we're watching, is some Democrats want to expand Medicare by lowering the eligibility age to 55 or 60.

KELLY: Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.