By Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will shift emphasis away from his Build Back Better spending plan when he delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday, focusing instead on a four-point plan to save the U.S. economy, administration officials said.
“It’s not about the name of the bill,” said an administration official. “It’s about the ideas. It’s about lowering costs for families.”
Dominating the news is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a crisis that has redirected Biden’s attention from the administration’s effort to revive his domestic economic agenda ahead of Nov. 8 congressional elections.
Yet, with his approval ratings wilting, Biden is retooling his push for broad tax-and-spending changes in a new way.
Many of the policies he promotes will seem familiar – raising Pell grants for education, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and creating a national paid family medical leave program – but the messaging is different.
Out is talk of remaking society with a Build Back Better social-spending agenda.
In is talk of restraining deficits and putting an end to inflation, two of the concerns that Democrat Joe Manchin, the swing vote in the U.S. Senate, thought the administration had failed to emphasize enough.
Manchin’s opposition tanked a package of Biden economic reforms that were aimed at working women and families, paring down the country’s massive income inequality and meeting climate goals.
Biden’s speech will call for many of the reforms on housing, education and climate to be passed under the rubric of a four-point plan: moving goods cheaper and faster; reducing everyday costs; promoting competition; and eliminating barriers to jobs.
Biden will commit to a number of initiatives related to his $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, including repairing 65,000 miles of roads and 1,500 bridges. He will push reforms in the ocean shipping industry and nursing homes and ask Congress to complete work on bills he hopes will make the U.S. economy more competitive against China.
“He’ll talk about the progress that we’ve made in the last year in the face of deep challenges and he’ll talk about his optimism for the future,” the administration official told reporters.
Rising costs have threatened the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and undermined Biden’s favorability with voters as a steward of the economy.
In the 12 months through January, the CPI jumped 7.5%, the biggest year-on-year increase since February 1982. Biden’s approval rating, meanwhile, sits at 43%, which is close to the lowest level of his presidency according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Nandita Bose; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller)