President Biden heralded federal agencies’ accomplishments under his watch and called for additional resources and stability during his second State of the Union address, which he delivered to an often-times combative Congress on Tuesday.
The president attempted to get ahead of Republicans who are looking for a fight over raising the debt ceiling or blocking bipartisan legislation, saying a new majority in the House need not cause additional strife. He pledged to work with Congress to pass appropriations to fund agencies, while demanding additional resources for issues ranging from border security to cancer research to federal oversight.
Biden repeatedly called on Republicans to continue to work with him on legislative areas of agreement, noting the several key measures that he signed into law over the last two years after they passed through Congress on a bipartisan basis. He also highlighted several provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act—which passed with only Democratic support—including its provision to dramatically staff up the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on unpaid taxes.
“Instead of cutting the number of audits of wealthy taxpayers, I signed a law that will reduce the deficit by $114 billion by cracking down on wealthy tax cheats,” Biden said. “That’s being fiscally responsible.”
He also pointed to the hundreds of billions of dollars federal agencies will dole out in the coming years as part of his bipartisan infrastructure bill, while announcing new mandates that federal agencies will face before that money goes out the door.
“Tonight, I’m also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America,” Biden said.
One area in which the president implored Republicans to work with him was to increase the debt ceiling to avoid a default. Failing to do so would significantly disrupt agency operations and could result in furloughs or delayed paychecks for federal employees.
During the Trump administration Congress “lifted the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis,” Biden said. “They paid America’s bills to prevent economic disaster for our country. Tonight, I’m asking this Congress to follow suit.”
The president asked Republicans to put their budget plan forward, saying the two sides “can sit down together and discuss both plans together.”
Congressional Republicans in recent days have said their forthcoming budget will aim to reduce the deficit by finding efficiencies and reducing waste in agency spending. Biden suggested lawmakers start to accomplish that by dramatically ramping up funding for the government’s internal watchdogs.
“Before I came to office many inspector generals who protect taxpayer dollars were sidelined,” Biden said. “They were fired, and fraud became rampant.”
The new path, he said, should start with recovery of misspent COVID-19 relief funds.
“Now, let’s triple our anti-fraud strike forces going after these criminals, double the statute of limitations on these crimes, and crack down on identity fraud by criminal syndicates stealing billions of dollars from the American people,” Biden said. “For every dollar we put into fighting fraud, taxpayers get back at least ten times as much.”
Biden also used his speech to follow up on progress on key issues he introduced in his address to Congress last year as part of his “unity agenda.”
Biden noted the passage of the 2022 Honor Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which makes millions of veterans newly eligible for Veterans Affairs Department benefits and care due to their service-connected exposure to burn pits and has paved the way for many hiring and pay reforms at the department. He also pointed to VA’s successes in reducing veteran homelessness and promised the department will continue to hire more mental health professionals.
The president highlighted that his Cancer Moonshot has led to groundbreaking research, including through the creation and funding of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). Ahead of the speech, White House officials called on Congress to formally reauthorize the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health so they can modernize their approaches and to provide more funding for his administration’s efforts.
In calling for police reform across the country, Biden vowed to make federal law enforcement a model for effectiveness and accountability. He pointed to an executive order he signed last year, to ban the use of chokeholds by federal personnel, restrict the use of no-knock entries, promote de-escalation tactics and require the use of body cameras. He praised federal law enforcement agencies for their efforts to interdict a record level of fentanyl and other illicit materials and vowed to increase capacity at ports of entry so more vehicles and packages are screened each day.
While Border Patrol personnel on Tuesday said they are facing severe personnel shortages, Biden boasted his administration has a “record number of personnel working to secure the border.” Still, he acknowledged more hiring would be required.
“If you won’t pass my comprehensive immigration reform, at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border,” Biden said, noting it should be paired with a pathway to citizenship for “dreamers” who came to the country as children.
Biden’s calls for bipartisanship may have fallen on deaf ears. Republican members frequently heckled the president during his address, causing him to deviate from his prepared remarks to engage with the audience.