Republican lawmakers critical of Biden's first congressional address
Washington — Republican lawmakers were critical of President Biden's first address before a joint session of Congress, arguing that the president did not offer enough bipartisan outreach in his speech. Mr. Biden outlined his ambitious legislative agenda on Wednesday, calling on Congress to allocate trillions of dollars in spending to improve infrastructure, health care and education.
In the official Republican rebuttal to Mr. Biden's speech, Senator Tim Scott said that Mr. Biden "seems like a good man," but argued that his policies were divisive.
"His speech was full of good words. But President Biden promised you a specific kind of leadership," Scott said. "Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes. We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further and further apart."
Republicans have balked at the price tags for Mr. Biden's American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which he touted in his speech on Wednesday. He also called for raising taxes for the top 1% wealthiest Americans and corporations, which most Republicans oppose.
"There's just a lot of talk about new spending and a lot of talk about new taxes, I worry about the economy being able to handle that. So I just disagree with the president on higher taxes," Republican Senator Rob Portman told reporters Wednesday night.
The president promised on Wednesday that he would not impose any tax increases on Americans making under $400,000 per year, but argued that "it's time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to just begin to pay their fair share." He also proposed raising the top tax bracket for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to 39.6%, noting that this was the rate when George W. Bush became president.
"You have pretty expansive spending on top of spending with the only way to pay for it, is to go after taxes," Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters after the speech. "I think it makes it very difficult for it to be truly bipartisan."
Senator John Thune, the Republican minority whip, praised Mr. Biden's delivery but argued that his proposals for government spending would ultimately be unpopular with the American people.
"You're talking about a speech that's got massive expansive new government programs growth of government and lots in new taxes, so there isn't much in there that I can agree with," Thune told reporters. "But I thought he did a nice job, as he always does, of making his argument in a way that I think probably gives him the best chance of trying to win over the American people. But I think when they see when they drill down on the policies, they're going to discover that there's a lot there they're not going to like."
Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters that he thought the speech probably appealed to Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent who caucuses with Democrats and is famously one of the most progressive members of the Senate.
"I'm sure Bernie was happy," Romney said. "I think with the experience we've had with the $1.9 trillion rescue plan, he would like Republicans to vote for his plan. But in terms of meeting in the middle, that hasn't something hasn't been something the administration has shown yet."
Congress used budget reconciliation to pass the American Rescue Plan, allowing Mr. Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal to be approved without any Republican votes. Reconciliation is a complicated process that allows legislation to advance in the Senate with only a simple majority of votes, instead of the 60 that is typically required. As Democrats only control 50 seats, it is nearly impossible to garner support from 10 Republicans to advance their biggest legislative priorities. Democrats are considering using budget reconciliation again to pass the American Jobs Plan.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican senators have proposed their own $538 billion infrastructure bill as an alternative to Mr. Biden's plan. In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Biden encouraged bipartisan action, but said that inaction was not an option.
"Vice President Harris and I meet regularly in the Oval Office with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the American Jobs Plan. And I applaud a group of Republican Senators who just put forward their proposal," Mr. Biden said.
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