Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC, March 1, 2022. Getty Images.
The word “jobs” came up 15 times in President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech – more times than even the word “America.”
That’s hardly surprising, since job creation is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy time for the United States and the world. The U.S. economy created over 6.5 million new jobs in 2021 — more than in any year in history.
But this stat alone is not enough to calm American families’ economic angst. Inflation is taking a big bite out of paychecks, and the war in Ukraine could cause even more price pain, especially at the pump.
For his efforts to calm this angst, I’d grade Biden’s speech a “B.”
It’s not that Biden doesn’t have a plan that would make families more secure in the face of inflation and other financial challenges. He does.
Biden’s Build Back Better plan would reduce costs for child care, home care, housing, and prescription drugs. And because it would be fully paid for through taxes on the wealthy, this plan would not add to the deficit or inflation.
For all these reasons, the Build Back Better Act is very popular among the American people.
But with that bill stalled in the Senate due to opposition from all Republicans and two Democrats, the president needs to do more to reassure worried families. Fortunately, Biden has considerable power to improve people’s lives without having to rely on Congress.
In his speech, Biden did announce a few important immediate actions — mostly aimed at combating corporate profiteering and misconduct.
For instance, the Justice Department will be naming a chief prosecutor to go after pandemic relief fund fraud and increasing enforcement of laws against price-gouging. The president specifically called out ocean carriers that transport goods in and out of U.S. ports for jacking up prices by as much as 1,000 percent.
Biden also pointed a finger at the four meat-packing giants for squeezing small farmers and ranchers. “You play with them or you don’t get to play at all,” Biden said. “And you pay a hell of a lot more. A hell of a lot more because there’s only four.”
The president also took aim at private equity investors that treat nursing homes like cash cows. “As Wall Street firms take over more nursing homes, quality in those homes has gone down and costs have gone up,” Biden noted.
COVID-19-related death rates have indeed been higher in nursing facilities owned by private equity firms. “That ends on my watch,” Biden promised, explaining that Medicare will raise nursing home standards.
I would’ve given the president a higher grade if he’d announced more bold executive actions like these.
For example, he could’ve announced that no companies will qualify for federal contracts unless they meet high-road standards — like having narrow gaps between CEO and worker pay, providing paid family and sick leave benefits, respecting union rights, and having strong records on racial and gender diversity.
Biden also could’ve promised to cancel federal student debts, lifting burdens that constrain opportunities for millions of Americans, particularly people of color.
The president spoke some about what Congress could do to cut drug prices. He should’ve also announced actions within his power to allow companies to produce generic, lower-cost versions of drugs developed with federal taxpayer dollars.
In his address, Biden rightly rejected the failed “trickle-down theory” that has prioritized the interests of the wealthy and big corporations over the rest of us and led to skyrocketing inequality. Now that needs to be matched by action.
Biden’s new initiatives will move our economy in a more equitable direction. But the president could do much more on his own to deliver for American families.