Five hot-button issues Biden didn’t mention in his address to Congress
President Biden included a series of bold proposals in his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday — but he noticeably left out a number of hot-button issues.
Student loan debt cancellation, filibuster reform, refugee admissions, the hot stock market and changes to the Supreme Court have all generated vigorous debate between the parties and among Democrats but were all absent from his remarks.
Some of the omissions were notable because they deviated from policy priorities the progressive wing of his party has been pushing. Others marked a break from his predecessor’s favorite topics.
Here are five prominent issues absent from Biden’s speech:
Student loan debt
Advocates who have prioritized canceling $50,000 of student loan debt were upset when Biden made no mention of an issue they consider essential.
While Biden aligns himself with progressives on various measures from pro-union policies to climate change, he disagrees with that part of the party, which includes Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), on loan forgiveness. Biden supports $10,000 in debt forgiveness, but he didn’t mention that in his speech Wednesday.
Advocates see student loan cancellation in large part as a racial justice issue. Black families are more likely to borrow at higher rates, and the average Black person who borrowed still owes 95 percent of their debt after 20 years, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“President Biden must take steps to redress the inequalities built into our higher education and commit to canceling up to $50,000 in student debt per eligible borrower,” Esete Assefa, chief political adviser at the ACLU, told The Hill on Thursday in response to Biden’s speech.
Another blow to progressives came with the absence of any mention of the legislative filibuster, which they see as a roadblock to any meaningful legislation because the Senate rule requires 60 votes to pass most bills.
Biden, a former senator, supports the legislative filibuster but has indicated he would be open to seeing changes to the Senate rule.
Progressive priorities such as the pro-LGBTQ rights Equality Act and the sweeping pro-union PRO Act are near impossible to pass with the filibuster in place. Ten Republicans, as well as all Democrats, would have to vote for the measures. Progressives, particularly in the House, have been agitating to get rid of the filibuster so Democratic priorities that have passed the lower chamber can move through the Senate.
Biden leaving filibuster reform out of his speech points to the contentious nature of the issue, on which he disagrees with many in his own party.
The filibuster reform debate was put on hold when the Senate parliamentarian ruled earlier this month that Democrats can use special budgetary rules to avoid a GOP filibuster on two more pieces of legislation.
That ruling opened the door for Biden’s top priority, his infrastructure package, to pass through budget reconciliation, which bypasses the filibuster and was used to pass the coronavirus relief package with no Republican support earlier this year. Still, it’s an issue that’s likely to resurface.
Biden made no mention of refugee admissions amid mounting pressure from Senate Democrats to increase the number of refugees who are permitted into the U.S.
The president spoke about immigration reform and called on Congress to pass bills that would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants but stopped short of addressing refugees.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led a letter with 34 Democrats this week urging Biden to lift the cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 for the current fiscal year and to set it at a minimum of 125,000 for fiscal 2022, which starts Oct. 1.
The White House initially said it would keep the 15,000-person limit set under former President Trump, but has since walked back those comments and said a decision is coming May 15. During the campaign, Biden pledged to increase the cap to 125,000 and to raise that number over time but in February proposed raising it to 62,500 for the 2021 fiscal year.
The stock market
Biden’s predecessor often spoke about the highs and lows of the stock market, using it as a proxy for the economy, and warned that it would tank if Biden won. The stock market during the president’s first 100 days has outperformed every president in the Past 80 years, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “Biden boom.”
But Biden didn’t mention it, though his moves to ramp up the vaccination program and pass his massive coronavirus relief package in March are being credited for the success of the stock market.
The president’s only mention of Wall Street on Wednesday was a nod to unions and provisions in his infrastructure package.
“The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America, that’s what it says. And, it recognizes something I’ve always said. The guys and women on Wall Street, Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class,” he said.
The Supreme Court
Biden mentioned the Supreme Court once, when he greeted Chief Justice John Roberts, who was the only justice in the Capitol due to coronavirus restrictions, at the beginning of his speech.
The omission of any further talk about the judicial branch was notable because Biden announced earlier this month he would create a commission to study expanding the Supreme Court, another priority for progressives. Republicans are strongly opposed to what they call court packing, which would add seats to the Supreme Court.
The debate over reforms to the high court surrounded the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Other reforms floated at the time were establishing 18-year terms for justices and narrowing the court’s jurisdiction.
Earlier on Wednesday, two high-profile judicial nominees appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden didn’t mention the nominees during his speech either.
Brett Samuels, Morgan Chalfant, Sylvan Lane and John Kruzel contributed to this report.