In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden addressed a new Congress following the midterm elections, and he focused on access to healthcare, public safety, supporting the middle class, and combating the climate crisis through clean energy investments.
Joining members of Congress in the House Chamber on Feb. 7 were special guests including the family of Tyre Nichols, who was killed by police in Memphis; Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the gunman who killed 11 people in Monterey Park, Calif.; Ukraine Ambassador Oksana Markarova; and U2 frontman Bono.
Here are key statistics and context for Biden’s primary arguments, backed by data from USAFacts’ State of the Union special report:
Biden opened the speech by highlighting several of his legislative accomplishments over the past two years.
Biden emphasized a strong economy over the past two years and cited strong job growth and a low unemployment rate.
The ratio of unemployed people to job openings remained at or near record lows throughout 2022.
However, these are not the only indicators of economic success. When accounting for inflation over the last fiscal year, workers’ average hourly earnings were down 1.7% in December 2022 compared to a year prior.
Healthcare was a recurring issue in Biden’s State of the Union, including statements about prescription drug prices, fentanyl production, and abortion access.
Biden spoke about falling prescription drug prices early in the speech, specifically capping the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors on Medicare.
According to the Office of Science and Data Policy, prescription drug spending rose annually from 2017 to 2021 (adjusted for inflation). While prescription costs are a concern for many Americans on an individual level, overall health care expenditures in the US are high across the board—not just with prescription drugs. A potential 25% decrease in prescription drug prices would have less than a 3% impact on overall healthcare costs.
Biden also stressed stopping the production, sale, and trafficking of fentanyl and emphasized the need to detect fentanyl smuggling via drug detection machines at the border and other mechanisms. Fentanyl deaths nationwide have increased annually since 2012 despite fewer opioid prescriptions.
In his speech, Biden vowed to veto a national abortion ban, but with the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade, abortion is now determined at a state level. Forty-one states enacted new abortion access laws. These changes came from trigger laws, new legislation, executive orders, judicial rulings, and voter actions in the midterm election.
Biden highlighted recent investments in clean energy and efforts to combat climate change. The president mentioned using the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to create clean energy jobs, help lower utility costs, and transition the country to renewable energy.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aims to add new electric grids, promote clean energy usage, and help build roads and water systems to withstand the effects of flooding.
The nation is already feeling the effects of climate change. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that at least 10% of the nation’s land area — and 13 million Americans — is currently at risk for flooding. Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the US.
The total number of acres burned in wildfires have increased in recent decades. In 2022, wildfires burned 7.6 million acres.
The Infrastructure Act will also fund the creation of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. The nation currently has 54,546 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center. Approximately 50,715 were available to the public, while 3,831 were private.
Biden called attention to the importance of banning assault weapons, highlighting mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Monterey Park, California that were committed with assault weapons.
Increased firearm suicides and homicides drove the nation's firearm death rate from 13.7 to 14.8 deaths per 100,000 people between 2020 and 2021.
This comes as firearm deaths per 100,000 people grew 13% between 2019 and 2020.
Read more: State of the Union Crime & Justice.
During his speech, President Biden stated that unlawful migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela has come down 97%. However, in November of 2022 alone, US Customs and Border Protection encountered 74,276 Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants at the Southwest Land Border.
The debt ceiling is among the most pressing issues facing the new Congress. The nation officially hit its $31.4 trillion debt ceiling on January 19. The Treasury Department has since begun using “extraordinary measures” to stay under the debt limit, including suspending investments into government savings, retirement, and health funds; halting the sale of government securities, and shifting money between government agencies to pay off intragovernmental debts.
However, these solutions are temporary, and Congress must reconvene to resolve the debt ceiling, most likely by raising the limit again. If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the US will have to default on debt obligations such as Social Security payments and salaries for federal employees. According to the Treasury Department, failure to raise the debt ceiling would result in “catastrophic economic consequences,” likely resulting in a financial crisis.
Biden also called for several other policy proposals, including a restoration of the full Child Tax Credit, a billionaire minimum tax, and Junk Fee Prevention Act. With so many policy priorities, Biden set forward an ambitious agenda for the next two years — but will need to win over a split Congress to pass major legislation.
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