c/o CT Insider

c/o CT Insider

With a Democratic congressional majority hanging in the balance, approval ratings rapidly sinking, and supply shortages threatening to cripple the economy, a visit to Connecticut (also known as the Nutmeg State, apparently) seems out of place on President Joe Biden’s schedule. One might think the most powerful and overburdened man in the free world has better places to be. Yet as Biden works to get his agenda passed, a stop in Hartford, Connecticut’s historically working-class and Democratic stronghold capital, is exactly what his initiative needs.

He touched down at Bradley International Airport around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 15, and was taken via helicopter to the Capitol Childhood Development Center in Hartford. As he entered, anti-administration protesters jeered at the president and his policies, some of whom were able to be heard during parts of his speech. He began by acknowledging various Connecticut lawmakers.

“I thank the excellent Connecticut leaders you have here,” Biden said. “Ned [Lamont], you’re one of the best governors in the United States of America, you really are, because you stand up for what you believe in and you don’t back down.”

Thanking other state Democratic politicians, including Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, he opened his speech with remarks about his own experience with familial loss and the need for help with childcare.

“Between the time I got elected and the time I actually ultimately went to the Congress…there was an automobile accident,” Biden said. “My daughter was killed, my wife was killed, and my two young boys, Beau and Hunter, were very badly injured and hospitalized for a long time. And I was making a decent salary as a U.S. Senator—$42,000 a year, that was a decent salary—and I could not afford the childcare.”

This story about his struggle with finding resources to care for his sons lines up with Biden’s proposed plan to spend $200 billion on universally guaranteed preschool, which he mentioned later in his speech.

“The fact is, today only about half of three-and-four-year-olds in America are enrolled in early childhood education like you’re doing here,”  Biden said. “My plan gets us back on track, [and] provides two years of high-quality preschool for every child in America.”

Biden’s ambitious plan is a combination of two major bills. The first, entitled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, deals with physical infrastructure repair and overhaul, its price tag totaling approximately $1 trillion. Major initiatives include revamping roads and bridges, installing national high-speed broadband, updating existing infrastructure, and fostering future construction. It has passed the Senate with bipartisan support but is being held up in the House of Representatives. The second bill, entitled the Build Back Better Act, is a much more broad piece of legislation, costing up to $3.5 trillion and has yet to pass the House or the Senate, and involves a large-scale tax overhaul, the creation of stronger social nets, green energy incentives, and an expansion of medical and educational guarantees.

In response to criticism over the costs of the plans, Biden remained steadfast that the net deficit of the bill would be zero in the long run. Biden attributed this, partially, to his controversial tax proposals, raising the tax rates on those making over $400,000 a year.

“Let me be clear,” Biden said. “Nobody who makes under $400,000 a year, which is a lot of money, will see their taxes go up one single penny, nobody, not one…there’s no reason why billionaires should pay a lower tax rate, literally a lower tax rate, than a school teacher or a firefighter or a couple.”

Biden also maintained that the bill’s purpose was to foster the middle class and increase equity, stressing that its goal was not to attack the wealthy.

“Name one time when the middle class was doing well that the wealthy didn’t do very very well, name one single time in American history,” Biden said. “So we’re not hurting anybody, we’re just making sure everybody gets a shot.”

Despite Biden’s statements and polling that shows strong public support, the congressional passage does not appear to be in the cards any time soon. The Build Back Better Act is likely to be gutted at the hands of moderate senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), both of whom have issues with the fiscal scale of the bill. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is already being held up by progressives in the house until the greater spending package is agreed to. Biden conceded in Hartford, for the first time, that the larger bill would be cut back, but remained firm in his conviction to get some version of it passed.

Following his speech, Biden traveled to the University of Connecticut where he spoke for about 30 minutes at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights on the Center’s mission and importance in the world, alongside his personal memories of former Senator Chris Dodd. The Center was being dedicated in the name of Dodd and his family. After another helicopter ride, Biden departed from the state of Connecticut five hours after his arrival.

While his remarks at the Childhood Development Center outlined very optimistic plans, they were also tinged with a tone of bitter acceptance. Biden conceded that he was willing to cut down on major programs in the Build Back Better Act in order to get some version of it passed. 

Though he faces protestors on the street, sticklers in Washington, and rapidly falling approval ratings, Biden is continuing to push for his proposals, whether in the short term or the long.

“I’m convinced we’re going to get it done,” Biden said. “We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion, we’ll get less than that. But we’re going to get it, and we’re going to come back and get the rest.”

Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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