By Tom Ozimek
President Joe Biden’s $6 trillion in early-term spending initiatives—his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that passed with zero Republican votes, along with his proposed $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan—have drawn sharply critical reactions from Republicans, and more muted criticism from some Democrats, for their lofty price tags.
Biden unveiled his newest legislative proposal, the sweeping $1.8 trillion package for families and education, during his first speech to a joint session of Congress on April 28, calling it a “once-in-a-generation” investment that would bring lasting benefits to the economy, expand the middle class, and reduce child poverty. The plan includes $1 trillion in spending on education and child care and $800 billion in tax credits aimed at middle- and low-income families, funded mainly by tax hikes on wealthier Americans.
Republicans say the bulk of the $6 trillion proposed spending in Biden’s early term is aimed to satisfy his liberal base and amounts to socialism.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took to Twitter to call Biden’s plans a “radical vision for our country that would turn the American Dream into an American nightmare.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in remarks from the Senate floor on April 29, pushed back against what he called Biden’s “go-it-alone radicalism.”
“The president talked about unity and togetherness while reading off a multi-trillion dollar shopping list that was neither designed nor intended to earn bipartisan buy-in,” he said.
“A blueprint for giving Washington even more money, and even more power to micro-manage American families and build a country liberal elites want, instead of the future Americans want.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), known for his willingness to work across the aisle, took aim at the spending levels in Biden’s proposals in an April 29 tweet.
“In his first 100 days, the President has proposed $6 trillion in new spending—about 4x our total federal budget!” Romney wrote, adding that the sky-high spending would saddle future generations with decades of interest costs and jeopardize their future.
“You know what’s hard to do?” Romney said in a video accompanying his tweet. “It’s hard to live within your budget and do good things within your budget.”
“What’s easy is just to spend money like there’s no tomorrow. And, unfortunately, the president has lots of things he’d like to do, but he’s spending like crazy,” Romney added, urging Biden to resist big spending calls coming from the liberal wing of his party.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was even more sharply critical of Biden’s spending.
“The words of this speech sounded like what you would hear from a 15-year-old if you gave him a credit card with no credit limit on it, except the words came out of the mouth of an adult who should know better,” said Christie, who was part of an April 28 panel of commentators on ABC.
Some Democrats, too, reacted with reservations to the $6 trillion price tag of Biden’s early-term initiatives.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), said “the goals are good” in Biden’s new families plan, but he questions whether the full amount is needed in light of the massive relief measures already adopted.
“We have to look at how this interfaces with the previous packages,” Tester said, Bloomberg reported. “And if there’s overlap, if that overlap’s been accounted for.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was more explicit with his criticism, saying on April 28 that he’s “very uncomfortable” with the overall cost, citing concerns about mounting public debt.
“A lot of money—that makes you very uncomfortable, you’re going to find how you’re going to pay for it, you know?” Manchin told a CNN reporter on Capitol Hill.
“Are we going to be able to be competitive and be able to pay for what we need as a country? We’ve got to figure out what our needs are and maybe make some adjustments, who knows.
“I don’t know how much more debt—we’re $28.2 trillion now in debt. There’s a balance to be had and we got to work that out.”
Holding a key swing vote in the evenly-split Senate, Manchin has emerged as something of a kingmaker who could force revisions to bills that he deems unreasonable in scope or cost. Notably, after Senate Republicans criticized what they said was a partisan process around passing the American Rescue Plan, Manchin called Biden’s calls for unity “hollow” and denounced the package as “bloated, wasteful, and partisan.” Manchin said he would block Biden’s next major legislative thrust unless more effort is made to include Republican voices.
Many conservatives hope the West Virginia senator will serve as a check on the Democrats’ more radical policy impulses.
Biden, who in his speech before Congress repeatedly reached out to the GOP, thanking them for proposing an alternative to his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and urging them to back his proposals, is set to discuss his plans with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the White House on May 12.
The families plan Biden has proposed provides an additional four years of free public education. It calls for $200 billion for free universal pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds and $109 billion for two years of free community college.
It also proposes $225 billion in funding to help parents pay for child care and boost the pay of child care workers. Another $225 billion is earmarked for a national family and medical leave program and $45 billion to improve school meals and offer food benefits to children during the summer. Biden’s proposal also seeks to lower health insurance premiums for Affordable Care Act plans, at a cost of $200 billion.
After Biden laid out his plans on April 28, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) argued that Democrats have no interest in working with Republicans on infrastructure legislation and rejected Biden’s American Families Plan as a scheme to put Washington at the center of American life “from the cradle to college.”
“Our president seems like a good man. His speech was full of good words,” Scott said in the nationally televised Republican rebuttal to Biden’s address.
“But our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes,” he added. “Our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams.”
Reuters contributed to this report.