Ahead of Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address, the White House retailed its intention to extend a hand to Republicans. Even after the speech, which delivered little in the way of a vaunted “unity agenda,” media outlets continued to promote Biden’s pursuit of “common ground” with the GOP. Republicans themselves have been portrayed as bit players in this narrative, save the extent to which they gracelessly swatted away the hand of friendship. But if the press had consulted some Republicans while reflecting on Biden’s supposed generosity of spirit, reporters might have acquired a fuller appreciation of the GOP’s contempt for this bait-and-switch of a speech.

Joe Biden’s White House seeks “unity” with Republicans on his terms, a prerequisite for which is their total capitulation. He is not “backing off his big-government agenda,” as the New York Times correctly observed. Biden named no spending cuts that he’d accept, despite demanding exactly those specifics from Republicans. Biden called for trillions of dollars in new spending on social programs and urged Congress to pay for them with a variety of new taxes. If there was outreach on display, it was audible only to the ears of Democratic partisans. Biden wants credit for making propitiatory gestures toward the GOP without actually offering any. That he was showered in credit anyway from a pliant media is predictable but no less exhausting.

Beyond the president’s triumphalist approach to relations with Republicans, Biden did nothing to ease tensions between his White House and the GOP. Rather, he went out of his way to antagonize his political adversaries.

He challenged Republicans to pass a comprehensive bill to reform immigration, but, barring that, he said, “at least pass my plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border.” We can assume that only the president’s plan for border security would satisfy Democrats because Senate Democrats repeatedly scuttled a variety of Republican amendments to the so-called Inflation Reduction Act that would augment border security. Moreover, Biden took credit for a decrease in migrant apprehensions at the border—a drop from record highs—by using powers available to the executive as a result of pandemic-related emergency provisions, which the Biden administration tried to sunset before the courts intervened. Why wouldn’t Republicans be insulted?

“In the last two years,” Biden said, “my administration has cut the deficit by more than $1.7 trillion—the largest deficit reduction in American history.” It takes a lot of gumption to make this claim, and not just because this administration has sought and secured trillions of dollars in new spending from the Democrat-led 117th Congress on a variety of progressive social projects. In what the Washington Post correctly deemed a “shell game,” Biden once again took credit for a decline in the budget deficit resulting from the end of the Covid pandemic and its associated relief packages. But that’s not what the Biden White House wanted. It lobbied lawmakers to continue to disperse Covid-related relief, though these appeals fell on deaf ears.

After taking credit for Congress’s accomplishment, which was in no small part a Republican victory, Biden accused his “Republican friends” of attempting “to take the economy hostage.” Using legitimate electoral leverage to secure campaign-trail promises via good-faith negotiation is only ever “hostage-taking” when Republicans do it. It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Republicans notice this double standard and resent it.

Midway through the speech, the president descended from his perch to engage in a back-and-forth with Republicans who barked indignantly at Biden in protest over his claim that they want to “sunset” America’s largest entitlement programs. Biden wasn’t lying, insofar as there is at least one Republican—Florida Sen. Rick Scott—who advocated sunsetting all American laws so they may be debated and revised. The House GOP’s response was perhaps reflexive, but Biden subsequently earned their derision when he dissembled about the crisis facing America’s entitlement programs.

In what has to be the president’s most gracious gesture of the night, he at least acknowledged that the challenge of this decade will be to keep programs such as Medicare and Social Security “solvent.” But he also insisted that we can do that quite simply with a one-time tax increase on individual incomes over $400,000 and by hiking the corporate tax rate. That is not true, as anyone who has even a passing familiarity with this subject knows. And the issue has been the focus of intense public debate for well over a decade.

Almost all forms of investment income are exempted from payroll taxes, which fund Social Security. Hiking payroll taxes makes a dent, but just a dent. Limiting rate hikes to higher incomes would have a negligible effect on the program’s fiscal trajectory. And all that assumes that the population of beneficiaries won’t expand in the future, which it will. Medicare’s growth, too, will outpace the gains associated with any single tax increase.

Two of Social Security’s most vital programs are forecast to become insolvent by 2035. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will not be able to meet its obligations by 2028. An entitlement crisis is no longer an academic concern, and anyone who takes that prospect seriously has earned the right to be insulted by those who do not and yet dare to condescend to them.

From Biden’s new plan to ensure that “all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects” are made in America (which will only compound the cost of federal construction and the billion of dollars in delayed repairs to civilian agencies), to the misleading claim that his administration oversaw the creation of 12 million new jobs (to which the White House is married, fact-checks notwithstanding), Republicans have every reason to be irked. Indeed, in some parts of the speech, provoking Republicans seemed to be the desired effect. Republican lawmakers should have enough self-control to avoid taking Biden’s bait. But the president’s “unity agenda” is just that—bait.

+ A A -
You may also like
12 Shares
Share via
Copy link