‘A Blue-Collar Blueprint to Rebuild America’: 7 Takeaways From Biden’s State of the Union

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., applaud. (Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

By Keya Vakil

February 8, 2023

Biden’s blueprint includes several recently passed laws which are expected to create millions of good-paying jobs—including many that don’t require a college degree—in construction, manufacturing, and other sectors. 

Too many American families and communities have been forgotten and left behind by their government—and that needs to change.

That was the dominant message of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Biden, who’s entering his third year in office, used his 73-minute speech to tout his administration’s accomplishments and efforts to help these families and communities and rebuild the American economy, while also making clear there is more work to do.

But that’s not all that Biden addressed on Tuesday. Here are the top 7 takeaways from Biden’s speech.

1. Biden Goes All in on Fighting for Working and Middle Class Families

Biden focused the early portions of his speech on the economy, and specifically on the struggles of the majority of American families who are working- or middle-class. 

“For decades, the middle class has been hollowed out,” Biden said. “Too many good-paying manufacturing jobs moved overseas. Factories closed down. Once-thriving cities and towns that many of you represent became shadows of what they used to be. And along the way, something else we lost: Pride. Our sense of self-worth.”

Biden acknowledged the road to fixing the damage would be long, but he also touted his administration’s accomplishments during its first two years as a strong start. Those accomplishments include: 

  • Twelve million jobs created—including 800,000 manufacturing jobs—and an unemployment rate of 3.4%.
  • More than 300 bipartisan bills signed into law.
  • More than 20,000 new infrastructure projects nationwide.
  • Record investments in American manufacturing all across the country. 

“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible,” Biden said. “Maybe that’s you, watching at home. You remember the jobs that went away. And you wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away. I get it.”

Specifically, Biden touted the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Biden accurately described as “the largest investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System. “

“These projects will put hundreds of thousands of people to work rebuilding our highways, bridges, railroads, tunnels, ports and airports, clean water, and high-speed internet across America,” Biden said of the more than 20,000 projects funded by the infrastructure law. 

Collectively, these three laws are expected to create millions of jobs—including many that don’t require a college degree—in construction, manufacturing, clean energy, and other sectors. 

“We’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back, because of the choices we made in the last two years,” Biden continued. “This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”

Biden also highlighted his administration’s plan to ban noncompete agreements, which companies use to prevent workers from getting new jobs at rival employers or launching their own business for a specific period of time after their employment. Noncompete clauses affect an estimated 30 million American workers, lowering their pay and restricting their opportunity and mobility. 

“We’re banning those agreements so companies have to compete for workers and pay them what they’re worth,” Biden said.

Biden also called on Congress to pass the PRO Act, which would make it significantly easier for workers to form unions. 

“I’m so sick and tired of companies breaking the law by preventing workers from organizing,” Biden said. “Workers have a right to form a union, and let’s guarantee all workers a living wage.”

2. Biden Secures a Nationally Televised Commitment From Republicans NOT to Cut Social Security or Medicare

Over the past year, hundreds of Republicans—including Sen. Rick Scott, who was in charge of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm last year—have outright said, suggested, or hinted that they want to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare, the programs that 65 million seniors rely on to avoid poverty and precarity after a lifetime of hard work. 

Most recently, a contingent of House Republicans have made clear they oppose raising the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion or more in spending next year, or an 8% cut from the most recent spending bill, which was just passed in December. 

The debt ceiling is a numerical limit, set by Congress, on how much money the federal government can borrow to pay its bills. Congress has raised the debt ceiling 78 times since 1960—nearly once a year, because failing to raise the limit would cause the US to default on its debt, triggering a global financial crisis.

But on Tuesday, when President Biden called out the Republicans pushing that plan, Republicans erupted into shouting and anger. The moment was remarkable and ended with Biden seeming to secure a commitment from Republicans—on national television, no less—that they would not make cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of the debt ceiling negotiations. 

Whether or not Republicans hold to their “promise” remains to be seen—after all, this is a party that has spent decades trying to cut the programs—but if nothing else, given the nature of Tuesday’s back-and-forth, the price for going back on their commitment is now likely to be higher. 

3. Biden Calls for Higher Taxes on Billionaires and Corporations

In 1980, the top corporate tax rate for companies earning over $100,000 a year was 46%, and the tax rate for the very richest Americans was 70%. Today all corporations pay only a 21% tax, and the wealthiest only pay a rate of 37%. 

As a result of these cuts—part of Republicans’ failed “trickle-down” economics agenda—income inequality has soared, leaving working and middle-class families struggling to scrape by while the richest Americans get even richer.

“I think a lot of you at home agree with me that our present tax system is simply unfair,” Biden said on Tuesday. “The idea that in 2020, 55 of the largest corporations in America made $40 billion in profits and paid zero in federal taxes? That’s simply not fair.”

To address part of this problem, Biden and Democrats in Congress passed a 15% minimum corporate tax as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. The law also increased funding for the IRS, so that the agency could go after wealthy tax cheats—a measure that will reduce the national deficit by $114 billion. 

But too many billionaires and massively profitable corporations still pay far too little in taxes, Biden said, as he called for higher taxes on billionaires

“Reward work, not just wealth. Pass my proposal for a billionaire minimum tax,” Biden said. “Because no billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter.”

Biden also called for a quadrupling of the tax (from 1% to 4%) on corporate stock buybacks—which is what happens when companies purchase shares of their own stocks, moves that often enrich already-wealthy shareholders by driving up the value of the stock. 

4. Biden Calls for an End to Junk Fees

Arguably one of the least-talked about accomplishments of the Biden administration are its efforts on junk fees. In recent weeks, the administration announced it would install a new regulation cutting credit card late fees by as much as 80%. 

Three out of four Americans have reported missing a credit card payment since the pandemic began, according to a recent Forbes survey. Missing these payments can be costly, as typical late fees for credit card payments can be $30 for a first missed payment and $41 for subsequent violations. Under the Biden administration’s new plan, late fees would be slashed to $8 for all missed payments. 

“Junk fees may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter to most folks in homes like the one I grew up in. They add up to hundreds of dollars a month,” Biden said on Tuesday. “They make it harder for you to pay the bills or afford that family trip. I know how unfair it feels when a company overcharges you and gets away with it. Not anymore.”

Biden also highlighted his administration’s successes in banning surprise medical bills and cracking down on “exorbitant” bank overdraft fees and hidden airline fees. The US Department of Transportation last year proposed a rule that would require airlines and online booking platforms to show the total price of a ticket up front, including baggage and any other fees.

“Americans are tired of being played for suckers. Pass the Junk Fee Prevention Act so companies stop ripping us off,” Biden said. 

The proposed bill would prevent companies from overcharging on resort fees at hotels, service fees at concerts and sporting events, and extra fees for family members to sit together on flights.

“We’ll prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together. Baggage fees are bad enough – they can’t just treat your child like a piece of luggage,” Biden said. 

Despite Biden’s pleas, the Republican-led House is unlikely to pass the bill, which would suggest they support junk fees. 

5. ‘Let’s Finish the Job’ on Improving America’s Healthcare and Caregiving Systems

Biden spent much of his speech touting his administration’s accomplishments over the first two years, but he also made clear that there was work left to do. 

Biden called on Congress to pass a law guaranteeing paid family and medical leave, to restore the full child tax credit, increase funding for at-home care for elderly seniors, and pass universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds.

These policies—which Biden tried to pass but was stymied by conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—would transform the nation’s system of care, which is currently an under-funded disaster that leaves millions of families in crisis. 

He also called on Congress to implement a universal $35 a month copay on insulin. 

As part of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a $35 monthly cap was implemented for seniors on Medicare, but Biden acknowledged that there are millions of other Americans who rely on insulin who are being overcharged for their life-saving medication.

“Let’s finish the job this time,” Biden said. “Let’s cap the cost of insulin for everybody at $35.”

Similarly, Biden also called on Congress to make permanent the subsidies that have made Affordable Care Act healthcare plans far more affordable. Those subsidies, which currently expire after 2025, have allowed millions more Americans to enroll in Obamacare health insurance plans and saved other families hundreds to thousands of dollars a year on their premiums.

He also made clear that if Republicans tried to raise the cost of prescription drugs or health insurance—which at least 20 of them have made clear they want to do—he would fight them aggressively.

“Make no mistake, if you try to do anything to raise the cost of prescription drugs, I will veto it,” Biden said.

6.  Biden Honors Tyre Nichols and Calls for Reform

Notably, Biden also spoke about the tragic death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police, the constant worry that Black and brown parents feel for their children out in the world, and the urgent need for reforms to prevent violence and police brutality. 

“We all want the same thing: neighborhoods free of violence,” Biden said. “What happened to Tyre in Memphis happens too often.”

Biden called for better training and higher standards for law enforcement, more first responders to address mental health and substance abuse challenges, more community intervention programs, additional resources to reduce gun crime, and greater investments in housing, education, and job training.

“All this can help prevent violence in the first place,” Biden said. “And when police officers or police departments violate the public trust, they must be held accountable.”

7. A Grab Bag of Other Issues

Biden also covered several other topics on Tuesday, including the importance of continuing to defend our democracy, the importance of passing bipartisan immigration reform and protecting Americans from fentanyl, the urgency of restoring abortion rights nationwide, and the continued role the US must play in helping Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s unjust war.

In one of his most animated moments of the night, Biden also called for a ban on assault weapons. 

“Ban assault weapons now!” Biden said. “I led the fight to do that in 1994. And in 10 years that ban was law, mass shootings went down. After we let it expire in a Republican administration, mass shootings tripled.”


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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