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Washington Watch: Ahead of Biden’s State of the Union, here’s how he’s delivered on his priorities so far

President Joe Biden is slated to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a speech coming just under a year since his last remarks before a joint session of Congress.

In that prior address, in April 2021, Biden laid out priorities for U.S. infrastructure
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,
child care, COVID-19, taxes and other areas.

So how’s he doing? The table below enumerates priorities Biden talked up a year ago, along with what progress he’s made on them — or hasn’t.

Key priorities from Biden’s April 2021 speech before Congress

PROMISE

STATUS

Infrastructure topics

Replacing 100% of lead pipes in U.S.

In progress; plan tied to infrastructure law. Says it’ll happen in next decade.

Installing 500,000 EV charging stations

In progress, plan tied to infrastructure law. Says it’ll happen by 2030.

Child care/family topics

2 years of free pre-K

In progress, seen as able to win support from key Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

2 years of free community college

Not likely; left out of Biden proposal in October.

Extend the expanded child tax credit

Not likely; Manchin isn’t supportive.

12 weeks of paid family/medical leave

Not likely; left out of Biden proposal in October.

COVID/other health topics

Full access for Americans to COVID-19 vaccines

In progress; kids under 5 not eligible for shots, but 76% of total population has had at least one dose.

Make lower Obamacare premiums permanent

In progress; could be included in scaled-down Build Back Better bill.

Lower drug prices by having Medicare negotiate

In progress; targeted negotiations could be included in smaller BBB bill.

Tax topics

No tax hikes for people making less than $400,000

In progress; GOP argues higher corporate taxes would impact middle class.

Take top income-tax rate back to 39.6%

Not likely; key Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema isn’t supportive.

Raise capital-gains tax rate for wealthy

Not likely; left out of Biden proposal in October.

Other topics

Bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan

Completed, but troop withdrawal widely criticized as chaotic.

Enact police reforms

Not likely; bipartisan talks collapsed.

Make changes to immigration system

In progress; Biden has reversed some Trump policies, but failed in other efforts; faced border crisis last fall.

Source: MarketWatch reporting

Infrastructure

Analysts on the left, right and center agree that Biden deserves credit for making progress with U.S. infrastructure, given that in November he signed into law a $1 trillion bipartisan bill targeting roads, bridges, broadband, ports and other areas.

“It’s a significant step forward,” said Jonathan Bydlak, director of the governance program at the R Street Institute, a right-leaning think tank, referring to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Bydlak said he didn’t support the infrastructure package, but it should be — yet isn’t — serving as a template for Biden, who “was largely elected to be a moderate.”

“That particular model is what Biden should be doing everywhere that he possibly can,” the R Street expert said. “He got some level of Republican support, it was an issue that a broad number of Americans generally agree with, and it fits with the reason he was elected in the first place.”

Child care and family issues

Biden a year ago said it was important to extend an expanded child tax credit, as well as to deliver 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, two free years of community college, and two years of free pre-kindergarten.

With his Build Back Better plan stalled in the 50-50 Senate, it’s now looking like only the pre-K proposal might have a chance, perhaps as part of a smaller social-spending package. Key Senate moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia is seen as potentially open to such a proposal.

A pre-K program has roughly a 40% probability of getting passed, according to Tobin Marcus, a policy and politics strategist at Evercore ISI, a research business. He said it’s difficult to forecast what could happen with a scaled-down Build Back Better bill, but he expects some action in the coming months.

“They’ll take another serious run at all this in late spring, early summer, when they kind of realize the window’s closing,” said Marcus, who served as an adviser to then–Vice President Biden.

Related: As Biden meets with CEOs on stalled Build Back Better plan, analysts believe a $1 trillion–plus package is ‘probable’

Also: Republicans may win not just House but also Senate in midterm elections — here are 2022’s Senate races to watch

COVID-19 and other health topics

In last year’s speech to Congress, Biden promised every American would have full access to COVID-19 vaccines. More than 76% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose, though regulators recently said they needed more time to decide whether to authorize jabs for children under age 5.

“They’ve largely delivered on that,” Marcus told MarketWatch, referring to access to COVID vaccines. “The kids under 5 is an outstanding issue. I think probably we are headed toward resolution on that fairly soon.”

The Evercore ISI analyst also said other health-related priorities, such as making lower Obamacare premiums permanent and reducing drug
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costs by having Medicare negotiate prices, are “very much in play” as part of a scaled-down Build Back Better bill.

James Capretta,  senior fellow and Milton Friedman chair at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said in an interview that Biden has “underachieved” in the past year on healthcare. Capretta has written that Obamacare subsidies and price controls on prescription drugs are “still in play, but their prospects have dimmed with the collapse of the administration’s legislative strategy.”

The AEI expert told MarketWatch that he has doubts about a smaller Build Back Better bill advancing as originally planned via a process known as budget reconciliation, in part because Manchin has talked about wanting to work through standard procedure.

Taxes

Biden a year ago stressed that there would be no tax hikes for people making less than $400,000.

“Strictly speaking, yes, I think he’s probably held to that promise,” R Street’s Bydlak said. Increased spending, however, is making it more likely that the Biden administration or some future administration will “have to go and raise taxes to deal with it.”

Some Republicans have argued that Biden’s proposed corporate tax hikes would end up hitting middle-class Americans, but Evercore ISI’s Marcus isn’t buying that view. He said: “The fact that some corporation has a slightly higher tax burden, and the reduced profits are flowing through in some way to reduce wages for people — that’s not really what people think of when they think, ‘Did Biden raise my taxes?’ “

Inflation

One thing that Biden didn’t address in his April 2021 speech was inflation, as his only mention of prices had to do with prescription drugs. Now it’s a hot topic and a problem ahead of November’s midterm elections for Democrats who hold the White House and both congressional chambers, how ever narrowly. Recent data have shown the U.S. rate of inflation at a 40-year high.

“The fact that it wasn’t in the speech tells you all you need to know about how much of a priority it was,” R Street’s Bydlak said. “There’s plenty of blame on both sides to go around here. Majorities in both parties for a long time have basically operated under the assumption that they can spend whatever they want, and there really aren’t going to be consequences from it.”

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