President Joe Biden is set to devote significant portions of Tuesday night’s speech not to any new initiatives, but to remind Americans of his accomplishments in the last two years and dusting off his ‘implementer-in-chief’ bona fides for programs that are rolling out .
The president has good reason for this approach. Biden has signed more significant new laws compared to other presidents going back decades, but those achievements have not broken through to the public consciousness.
A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found that 62% of respondents (and 66% of independents) felt he had accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” during his time in office.
“Biden is really enjoying, by historical standards, a really successful couple of years,” noted Camille Busette, the interim director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “The issue he faces is that people are just not aware of what has been passed .”
From the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the Inflation Reduction Act to legislation around semiconductors, veterans, guns and more, Biden has signed legislation that is primed to reshape the US economy for years to come. Busette predicts Biden will make a concerted effort tonight to help Americans “visualize” how his policies are being enacted.
“I think he’s going to spend a lot of time and political currency on that,” she said Monday during a Brookings event to preview the annual address.
The president’s speech won’t be completely devoid of new ideas, aides said. He is also set to discuss a “unity agenda” around efforts like supporting veterans, fighting cancer, and tackling opioid abuse, which might have a chance at cobbling together bipartisan support.
Biden will also call for new policies like universal insulin caps, a billionaires tax, and expanding government support for childcare. But the presence of new Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who will be sitting over the president’s left shoulder, will be a visual reminder that those ideas have little chance of being enacted anytime soon.
“Fundamentally, this president is focused on delivering results for the American people,” White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told reporters Tuesday morning, discussing both the unity agenda and Biden’s broader economic agenda. “That is going to continue to be our focus for the next two years.”
‘This is a year of action and investment and implementation’
Still, large sections of the speech are set to highlight the implementation of previously passed laws.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese laid out more detail of what will look like on Monday. The aide noted that three major pieces of Biden’s economic legislation really begin to take hold this year.
For example, three main parts of the massive Inflation Reduction Act went into effect on Jan. 1, including new limits on the price of prescription drugs and a new corporate minimum tax. The CHIPS and Science Act will begin distributing the $50 billion it has set aside for semiconductor companies later this month. And the $1 trillion infrastructure law signed in 2021 will continue to roll out money in phases over the coming years for improvements on roads and bridges.
“This is a year of action and investment and implementation,” Deese said, allowing that it might not be the most exciting topic. “Even the word ‘implementation,’ it sort of sounds technocratic.”
Still, he added, “we need to demonstrate to the American people and the world that we can build faster, more efficiently, and more equitably than we’ve done in the past.”
The Biden administration’s shift to an implementation focus has been in the works ever since Republicans took over the House of Representatives.
“Something that people should know about Joe Biden is, more than almost any other holder of high office I’ve ever worked for, he cares a ton about implementation,” Jared Bernstein, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, told Yahoo Finance in January
Speaker McCarthy and many other Republicans adamantly opposed the rollout of these bills — even as legislation like infrastructure and semiconductor laws passed with some GOP support — but their power to stop the effort is limited with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House.
For his part, McCarthy on Monday vowed to be “respectful” during the address, saying “I won’t tear up the speech, I won’t play games.” Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR) is then set to deliver the Republican response immediately after Biden speaks.
Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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