President Joe Biden Thursday evening sought to galvanize support for his administration’s ambitious and expansive social spending proposals at a town hall event that was held at the Center Stage theatre in downtown Baltimore.
The 90-minute event was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and featured questions from pre-selected members of the audience who are Baltimore-area residents. Seven Democrats and two Republicans asked questions.
Among them was a professor from Loyola University who asked the president about reported plans to abandon a proposal for two years of free community college and a Bowie resident who asked Biden about his proposal to expand care for the elderly.
The event comes as the president is being forced to consider reducing the price tag of his signature infrastructure bill from $3.5 trillion to somewhere in the neighborhood of about $1.5 trillion due to opposition from some of the members of his own party.
Chief among the naysayers are Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona.
Democrats can not afford to lose any votes as they control the Senate by a margin of 1 when Vice President Kamala Harris’ constitutional authority to break a tie vote is considered.
The intra-Democratic feud over the president’s domestic spending agenda has led to the drawing of a battle line in the sand between moderates who want to scale back spending and progressives who want to exponentially increase it.
So where does the president stand?
Biden emphasized that he opposes Manchin’s proposal to add work requirements in exchange for support for expanding the child tax credit.
“No. All of these people are working anyway. Why should somebody who is not working and has a million-dollar trust fund-why should they get the benefit? And someone making 60 grand and not working, but staying home-why should they not get anything?
Biden conceded that his proposal for free community college is unlikely to make it into the current spending bill but that it will likely pass at a later date.
“It is not going to get us the whole thing,” the president said of his proposal to expand pell grants as a compromise in the meantime.
Biden called for increasing the corporate tax rate, saying the issue is a matter of basic fairness.
“They know they should be paying a little more than 21% because the idea that if you’re a school teacher and a firefighter you’re paying at a higher tax rate than they are as a percentage of your taxes.”
Sinema has said she opposes such a proposal, which would put the passage in jeopardy.
Biden suggested a degree of frustration with Sinema’s position on that issue.
“She’s very supportive of the environmental agenda in my administration. Where’s she’s not supportive-where she says she won’t raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and on wealthy people.”
On the vaccine front, Biden said he supports firing police officers, firefighters, and paramedics who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Yes, and yes,” when asked if he would terminate police and emergency response workers who refuse the vaccination.
On inflation, Biden said gas prices are likely to continue to increase for at least the next year.
“I don’t see anything that’s going to happen in the meantime that’s going to significantly reduce gas prices.”
As for the administration’s plan for the distribution of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, once they are approved by federal regulators, Biden said that that would happen sooner rather than later.
“The expectations are, they should be ready in the near term, meaning weeks, not months and months.”
Biden sought to reassure Americans that economic conditions will improve in the near future.
“How often do I get asked the question: ‘What’s Christmas going to be like? How about Thanksgiving? Will it be okay? What is going to happen? Will I be able to buy gifts for my kids?’ “There’s a lot of anxiety people have.”