By Ralph Nader
The President’s State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress is the media event of the year for the occupant of the Oval Office. Joe Biden spoke for an hour, covered lots of predictable policy ground, and also praised, promised, and reassured “the people.”
But, as President Biden has done many times in public speeches and addresses, he failed to engage the people as his allies to confront his policy opponents in Congress.
All his priorities – social safety net protections, rebuilding community infrastructure or public works, more aggressive action against climate crises, and paying for these programs by repealing the Trump tax escapes for the large corporations and the super-rich, are being blocked by 50 GOP Senators and two Democratic Senators.
Biden’s reluctance to invite the people to phone, write or email these obstructionists in Congress reflects his personality of not criticizing the GOP opposition when addressing the public.
Here is what Mr. Biden could have said to mobilize the citizenry and stay with his amiable style:
My four major programs register large majority support among the American people. It is easy to understand why. People want their public services to work. They want the roads, bridges, public transit, their water and sewage plants, their public clinics, and broadband upgraded and maintained in good repair. People need their well-equipped heroic emergency responders to rescue them in times of danger. That’s what your taxes are supposed to be for public needs.
Furthermore, the American people want their government to have the facilities to protect them from climate violence and not just when the tornadoes, hurricanes, massive wildfires, floods or droughts, and other natural disasters hit us. Increasingly, the people are worried about more of these calamities worsening for their children and grandchildren.
You know what? It doesn’t matter whether they are conservatives or liberals, small businesses or large company owners, members of the chambers of commerce or unions. That’s why all the polls register loudly: “Do It, Now!”
We also know that the American people are compassionate. They know that misfortune, calamity, bad luck, or disabling depression could befall any of us. Half of the working families in our country are poor. They struggle to meet their daily needs and debt payments. Fifteen million children go to bed hungry in America! Our traumatized veterans return home and find themselves homeless, unemployed, uncared for and committing suicide, all in higher proportions than is the case with the civilian population.
Workplace hazards claim many workers’ health and safety. Toxics in the environment expose some people more than others. All these people who are our neighbors, friends, and relatives call for the compassion of those Americans fortunate enough not to be in distress. All religions historically instruct their adherents to take their charitable responsibilities seriously. We learned this as kids attending our places of worship.
Our proposed programs have, for decades, lent a helping hand to needy workers – daycare and family leave – and to needy unemployed such as wider access to Medicare, Medicaid, home healthcare, nutritious food programs, and energy assistance. In 2021, this Congress appropriated funds that gave over 60 million non-partisan children approximately $300 per month per child. Mothers and fathers called this supplemental help during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic a timely lifeline. It expired in January. Many in Congress have refused to temporarily renew this emergency help.
My fourth program, which would repeal the Trump tax escapes answers the question members of Congress always ask. How do we pay for these services and initiatives I have outlined (which by the way, economists tell us help promote economic growth and head off heavy expenses, as with safety, health, and health insurance improvements)? The super-rich and the giant corporations should step up their patriotism and finally pay their fair share as people like Warren Buffett and the Patriotic Millionaires’ organization have argued for years.
Just in the period of Covid-19, the very wealthy have increased their assets by a trillion dollars and INCREASED their wealth while a pandemic has claimed more than a million innocent American lives and destabilized the economy. These privileged and wealthy people and super-profitable corporations are benefitting from the lowest federal income taxes their class has paid since before World War II.
Congress itself has documented the huge tax escapes available to the super-rich. One stunning fact stands out: In 2021, 55 corporations that earned $40 billion paid zero in federal income taxes. They can get away with this because their lobbyists stay in touch with their members of Congress who make their privileges possible.
That’s not fair by any standard of fair play for the American people. I don’t know any American workers who can make record wages and pay no federal income tax.
My proposals would restore the taxes on the super-rich and giant corporations, including foreign corporations doing business in the U.S. to where it was before the Trump cuts. Even then they were paying in federal income taxes far less than companies and super-rich were paying in the prosperous nineteen sixties.
My fellow Americans, aren’t you getting tired of State of the Union speeches by presidents condemning gouging prescription drug prices and the ban on Medicare negotiating volume discounts with the big drug companies, as the VA and the Department of Defense do now, with nothing happening on Capitol Hill? Aren’t you tired, as I am, of a succession of presidents condemning fraud on the government by business crooks or promising to make America more self-sufficient in critical areas, and nothing happens in Congress?
The list goes on – for a higher minimum wage, enforcing the law against corporate crime, monopolies and daily rip-offs of consumers, and letting workers have an easier time forming trade unions.
Still, Congress – not all lawmakers of Congress by any means – does nothing and in some instances actually passes legislation making some of these abuses worse.
Enough already. You the people gave your sovereign power under our Constitution over to the 535 members of Congress. You must demand that your delegated power be used by Congress to lift up and serve the American people ‘indivisible for liberty and justice for all.’ You know their names, their phone numbers, and their emails. Let them hear from you! Or you can call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask the legendary Capitol operators to take you to the offices of your senators and representatives. If just 30 million out of over 300 million Americans do this simple task, I guarantee that you’ll change enough minds to make these great advances against frustration, anxiety, dread and fear a daily reality.
In addition, the White House will place these programs in clear language with numbers on a new White House website Yes.org. When you contact your members of Congress, make sure you insist on a response to your message. If your members of Congress do not respond to your demands, send them again and again to their national and local offices and, if you wish, to the local media.
We only need a handful of legislators to change their minds or to be independent of mind, to get these long-overdue changes enacted. As was done throughout American history, when members of Congress decided to do the right things, despite special interest negativity, it was because they heard your voices, your reason, your personal pleas, your compassion, and your respect for what our Founders called “posterity.” Only you now can make members of Congress rise to their “better angels.”
Thank you and God Bless America.
Why didn’t Biden’s speechwriters save this solemn, mass-media-covered occasion from being another exercise in rhetorical futility?