Biden unveils $1.8tn plan for family support as he marks 100 days in office

American Families Plan proposes extra state support for childcare and education

President of the United States Joe Biden urged the US Congress to support a "once-in-a-generation" investment in America as he delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night in Washington.

At a live televised address from the US Capitol, Mr Biden set out the achievements of his first 100 days in office and sought to secure political support for a new $1.8 trillion (€1.5 trillion) investment plan – the latest in a series of investment programmes he has unveiled since assuming office on January 20th.

Mr Biden began his address by paying tribute to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and vice-president Kamala Harris who, in keeping with tradition, sat behind the president for the duration of the speech.

“Madame speaker, Madame vice-president. No president has ever said those words from this podium and it’s about time,” he said, referring to the fact that both are the highest-ranking women in US politics.

First lady Jill Biden was in attendance in the gallery, as was Doug Emhoff, the husband of Kamala Harris. But attendance in the chamber was limited to some 200 people due to Covid restrictions.

Mr Biden’s speech, which lasted just more than an hour and was covered on most US networks, set out an ambitious agenda for his presidency. Declaring that “America is on the move again”, he urged congress to show “that our government still works and can deliver” for the American people.

Setting out the details of the American Families Plan – his $1.8 trillion proposal for extra state support including child care, paid leave and education – he said that “no one should have to choose between a job and paycheck or taking care of themselves and a loved one – a parent, spouse, or child.”

He outlined progress in the US on Covid vaccination, noting that 90 per cent of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site and that all Americans over 16 years of age are entitled to get vaccinated.

“Everyone over the age of 16, everyone, is now eligible and can get vaccinated right away, so get vaccinated now,” he said.

Foreign policy

On foreign policy, Mr Biden defended his decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September.

“American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan,” he said. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation building. We went to Afghanistan to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. We delivered justice to Osama bin Laden and we degraded the terrorist threat of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. After 20 years of American valour and sacrifice, it’s time to bring our troops home.”

He also warned Russian president Vladimir Putin that "actions have consequences", though he stressed that the US does not want escalation. "We can also co-operate when it's in our mutual interests."

He said that the US would be working closely with its allies to address the threats posed by Iran and North Korea, noting that both countries' nuclear programmes "present a serious threat to America's security and world security".

The US president made reference to his plans to increase the corporate tax rate and reform the way multinational companies are taxed – a move that could potentially impact Ireland. "We're going to reform corporate taxes so they pay their fair share and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from," he said, mentioning countries such as Switzerland and Bermuda, but not Ireland.

Senator for South Carolina Tim Scott delivered the Republican response to the address.

"Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams," he said. "It will come from you, the American people." Mr Scott, who is the only African-American Republican senator, also defended the country's record on race relations in the wake of public outcry over the murder of George Floyd.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent