Biden, Calling for Big Government, Bets on a Nation Tested by Crisis


The president’s speech laying out trillions of dollars in new economic proposals plays to voters’ warm feelings toward federal aid in the coronavirus pandemic.

President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, calling for bold government action to address the nation’s challenges.Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda might have seemed unthinkable as the United States was emerging from its last recession, when austerity politics still ruled the Capitol and even a Democratic president was reluctant to push huge tax increases on corporations and the rich.

But Mr. Biden has a significant chance of signing at least a large chunk of his plans into law this year, partly because of a pandemic that reminded many Americans that big government could deliver money to help sustain them and speed efforts to end the crisis.

What the president is promising from the government in the years to come is a long list of tangible improvements in Americans’ daily lives: smoother roads, cheaper child care, cleaner and more reliable electricity, more years of free schooling for toddlers and young adults, paid leave for workers whose lives are upended by illness and faster internet service in rural areas and elsewhere.

Those sweeping spending plans, which Mr. Biden made the centerpiece of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, would be paid for by raising $4 trillion in tax revenue from high earners and corporations. While Republicans have begun complaining about that price tag, they have yet to galvanize a public backlash like the Tea Party movement that engulfed President Barack Obama’s administration a few months after he took office in 2009.

Analysts say there is an obvious difference this time: Before Mr. Obama entered the White House, lawmakers approved a nearly $1 trillion effort to bail out Wall Street. Before Mr. Biden took office, Washington was sending money to nearly every person in the country — and those people noticed.

They also saw, in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, a stark reminder of longstanding inequalities and fragility in the American economy.

“The scope of the crises that we’re living