Biden to Lay Down Economic Challenge to House Republicans

WASHINGTON — President Biden plans to challenge the new House Republican majority on Tuesday night to raise taxes on the wealthy, extend more social aid to the needy and rule out cuts to Social Security and Medicare as he opens an era of divided government.

In his first State of the Union address since his fellow Democrats lost control of the House, aides said Mr. Biden would call on lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to rally around his economic agenda, even as the newly empowered opposition gears up to try to force him to change direction.

No one expects the Republicans now running the House to embrace Mr. Biden’s legislative program, nor is the president likely to agree anytime soon to the other side’s demands for deep spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. But the speech and the G.O.P. response will frame the terms of debate heading into the coming year, even as Mr. Biden prepares to announce a campaign for re-election this spring.

“I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs — what’s going on, what I’m looking forward to working on from this point on, what we’ve done, and just have a conversation with the American people,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Monday when asked what he would highlight in his speech.

White House officials said the president would celebrate recent gains in the economy, including falling inflation and strong job growth, while taking credit for legislation meant to curb prescription drug prices for seniors, expand health benefits for veterans, invest in climate change programs and rebuild roads and bridges.

On Monday night, Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California delivered his own address at the Capitol, in an effort to pre-emptively portray himself as the reasonable negotiator ahead of Mr. Biden’s speech.

He did not offer any specific spending cuts that his party could coalesce behind, but noted that Mr. Biden had voted against raising the debt ceiling as a senator in 2004, and used his own words against him. At the time, Mr. McCarthy recalled, Mr. Biden had said that his vote amounted to “a demand that we change course.”

“We need a different approach,” Mr. McCarthy said. “No drawing lines in the sand or saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ No policy gimmicks or political games. But most of all, no blank checks for runaway spending. Just sensible, responsible solutions to our growing national debt.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy said there should be “no blank checks for runaway spending.”Credit…Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

The speech comes at a time when Mr. Biden has scored major policy successes and forged a broad coalition against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even as polls show that most Americans are not satisfied with his leadership and even most Democrats would prefer that someone else run for president in 2024. Clouding Mr. Biden’s message will be a new special counsel investigation into the mishandling of classified documents and the furor over a Chinese spy balloon that crossed American airspace.

As presidents have done for four decades, Mr. Biden has invited carefully chosen guests to join the first lady, Jill Biden, in the House gallery to make political points. Among them will be Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States; Bono, the singer who has championed AIDS treatment; and Paul Pelosi, the husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was attacked in their San Francisco home by a man hunting his wife.

Also sitting near the first lady will be cancer survivors, business owners, students, a young immigrant seeking legal status, the father of a fentanyl overdose victim, a couple who pushed to legalize same-sex marriage, a Holocaust survivor, an ironworker, a Navy spouse, the man who disarmed a shooter in Monterey Park, Calif., and a woman who encountered trouble in pregnancy but could not be helped because of Texas’ abortion law.

Accompanying them will be the parents of Tyre Nichols, the Black man who was beaten to death by five police officers in Memphis, touching off the latest national debate about policing and race.

In his speech, Mr. Biden will call on Congress to extend a new $35 price cap on insulin for Medicare beneficiaries to all Americans; to make premium savings in the Affordable Care Act permanent; to slap a minimum tax on billionaires; and to quadruple the tax on corporate stock buybacks. But he will decry any Republican move to trim spending on Social Security and Medicare.

“He is going to continue to look for every opportunity, when it comes to the economy and economic policy, to reach out and work with Democrats and Republicans, find practical paths forward, find compromise,” said Brian Deese, the president’s national economic adviser. “But at the same time, he’ll draw some clear lines of things he’s not prepared to do.”

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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