Government Affairs and Advocacy

March 11 Federal Update: Biden Delivers State of the Union Speech

Social Current logo Social Current
March 11, 2024

In a fiery State of the Union speech on Thursday night, President Joe Biden defended his record and laid out his vision for the future. While he tackled major issues in the news, such as immigration, foreign policy, and crime, he also dedicated substantial time to issues like health care, education, and housing.

President Biden highlighted progress in implementing Medicare drug price negotiations, fulfilling a longstanding Democratic ambition enshrined in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). With ongoing negotiations for 10 drugs, Biden emphasized potential cost reductions for seniors and positive impacts on the federal budget. He called for an ambitious expansion to 500 drug price negotiations over the next decade. He praised other provisions in the IRA like capping insulin prices at $35 as well as limiting Medicare out-of-pocket drug expenses to $2,000, and he urged Congress to extend these measures.

President Biden also outlined his administration’s education priorities, focusing on raising teacher pay, bolstering early childhood education, and expanding tutoring and career readiness programs. The agenda aims to address chronic absenteeism, promote universal pre-kindergarten, and alleviate student debt through initiatives such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. According to the administration, in the last three years, 800,000 people qualified for the PSLF program.

In the speech, President Biden revealed new housing policy initiatives, proposing tax credits to support first-time homebuyers and incentivize home sellers. The plan includes a $5,000 per year credit for middle-class first-time buyers for two years, effectively reducing mortgage rates by over 1.5 percentage points. Additionally, the president proposed a one-year credit of up to $10,000 for selling starter homes below the county median price to stimulate activity in the sluggish housing market.

Sources: KFF Health News, Washington Post, and Education Week.

Administration Proposes New Rule on Child Care Subsidies

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has introduced a new rule aimed at lowering child care costs and enhancing options for families receiving subsidies. This rule, which is in line with President Biden’s April 2023 executive order on increasing access to high-quality care and supporting caregivers, makes crucial updates to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), the nation’s primary funding source for child care affordability and quality improvement. Key provisions of the rule include capping family child care payments at 7% of household income, expanding child care choices, ensuring timely payments to providers, and simplifying application processes for families. By implementing these changes, HHS estimates around 100,000 children will benefit from reduced child care expenses. In separate statements, Vice President Kamala Harris and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasized the administration’s commitment to affordable child care, highlighting the importance of these measures in supporting working families and child care providers alike.

WIC Gets More Funding, Child Tax Credit Expansion Still in Limbo

On March 6, aiming to prevent a government shutdown before the Friday deadline, the House of Representatives passed a $460 billion spending package to fund half of federal agencies. Due to opposition from some House Republicans, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) had to use an unusual process which required a two thirds majority to pass the bill. The package passed 339-85. The Senate also passed the bill and President Biden signed it into law on Saturday. The bill incorporated key Democratic priorities, including a $1 billion increase to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), additionally staving off attempts to limit the purchase of certain items within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This agreement averts an immediate shutdown and ensures government operations continue. However, the new deadline is March 22 and challenges remain in reconciling differences over contentious issues within remaining spending bills. For example, Sen. Mike Crapo has expressed strong opposition to a $78 billion tax bill that would expand the child tax credit. Crapo criticized proposed changes to the Child Tax Credit, expressing concerns over potential implications for workforce participation and describing the bill as a shift from family tax relief to government subsidy. Amidst these debates, the path forward in the Senate remains uncertain, highlighting ongoing challenges in reaching bipartisan consensus on critical fiscal matters.

McConnell To Step Down as Senate Leader

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the longest-serving Senate leader, announced his plans to leave the position in November, marking the end of an era in American politics. McConnell, age 82, revealed his decision in the Senate chamber, reflecting on his journey from obscurity to leadership. His resignation marks a significant ideological shift within the Republican Party, transitioning from traditional conservatism in the style of Ronald Reagan to the populism of Donald Trump.

McConnell emphasized he plans to complete his Senate term, which extends until January 2027. His decision came amid mounting pressure from within his party, particularly from the faction aligned with Trump.

Notably, McConnell’s relationship with Trump soured after the 2020 election, culminating in McConnell’s blame of Trump for the Capitol riot. Despite criticism from within his party, McConnell remained steadfast in his convictions.

Throughout his tenure, McConnell wielded considerable influence, reshaping the federal judiciary and championing conservative policies. Despite his polarizing reputation, McConnell leaves a lasting legacy in the Senate, characterized by his strategic acumen and dedication to his party.

Looking ahead, McConnell acknowledged the need for new leadership in the Senate, signaling a generational shift. While his departure is the end of an era, McConnell remains dedicated to his role.

Subscribe to the Policy and Advocacy Radar to receive our biweekly policy roundup, which includes commentary on issues in Social Current’s federal policy agenda, opportunities to take action, and curated news and opportunities.

Social Current logo

About Social Current

Social Current is the premier partner and solutions provider to a diverse network of human and social service organizations. We offer a range of innovative solutions through COA Accreditation, consultation, impact partnerships, knowledge curation and dissemination, learning collaboratives, networking, public policy advocacy and mobilization, and trainings.