In First State of the Union, Biden Seeks to Sow Unity and Takes On Inflation, Russia

In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden underscored a message of unity and reassurance–and there was plenty in his speech for business owners navigating myriad uncertainties.

“I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming to all Americans,” said Biden, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “But I want you to know that we are going to be OK. We are going to be OK.”

To allay concerns about rising energy costs resulting from the conflict, Biden announced the release of 30 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Another 30 million would come from allied countries, he said. Maskless for the duration of the event, the president also pushed for a return to normalcy after two years of the pandemic. And Biden doubled down on his pitch for his now-stalled legislative agenda to help relieve future problems. 

Whether his comments will sway polarized lawmakers remains to be seen. But they should offer some degree of certainty for those navigating a choppy business climate. Here are three points that stood out.

Confronting Russia

Without question, the Ukrainian crisis has heightened feelings of anxiety and stress as Russia remains a wildcard. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats don’t help concerns on that front, either. 

Biden was quick to show that America stands with Ukraine and lobbed pointed criticism at Putin. “When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.” Even now, Biden said, Putin is “isolated from the world more than ever” after a slew of countries threw sanctions at Russia. America is also just one of several countries that will not allow Russian planes to fly through their air space. 

Aware of the potential for retaliatory measures, including the potential for cyberattacks, Biden took care to emphasize that the sanctions imposed on Russia are aimed specifically at the Russian economy. Biden noted that he would do everything in his power to protect both American businesses and consumers.

Curbing inflation

While highlighting some of the achievements of his presidency, like record job growth and high wages, Biden acknowledged that sky-high inflation rates are continuing to clobber Americans. 

“Our economy roared back faster than most predicted, but the pandemic meant that businesses had a hard time hiring enough workers to keep up production in their factories,” Biden explained, adding that the pandemic also impacted global supply chains. “When factories close, it takes longer to make goods and get them from the warehouse to the store, and prices go up,” he continued. 

But Biden made it clear that tackling inflation is a top priority and shared that his plan–one that resembled the skeleton of his Build Back Better bill, despite his not uttering that name once during his speech–would fight off the sticker shock plaguing many Americans. Biden proposed a return to U.S. manufacturing. “Instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s make it in America,” Biden said. He would also look to drill down energy costs, and to provide incentives–like tax credits or investment subsidies–for consumers and businesses to choose more energy-efficient options.

Biden’s plan also seeks to reduce costs associated with child care, which clocks in at upwards of $14,000 a year per child. By pushing down the costs related to child care, the president posits that millions of women, who left their jobs as a result of high child care costs, will be able to come back into the labor force. That pool of untapped workers could help alleviate the labor crunch, too.

Returning to normal

At the start of his address, Biden recognized how Covid-19 was keeping everyone apart this time last year and proceeded to celebrate the strides the country has made since. And they’re notable: The 79-year-old president, like many of his congressional counterparts, did not don a mask during the address. (The White House and the House of Representatives lifted their mask mandates a couple days before the State of the Union.)

The pandemic isn’t over and Biden said he realizes that. With the potential for new variants to emerge, the president said that we must still “stay on guard.” But he lauded the tools–vaccines and anti-viral treatments, for instance–the U.S. now has to keep the virus at bay and noted that, therefore, shutdowns of schools and businesses are no longer necessary.

“We can’t change how divided we’ve been,” Biden said. “But we can change how we move forward–on Covid-19 and other issues we must face together.”

The president covered other pandemic-related ground as well, revealing that the Justice Department plans to appoint a chief prosecutor to go after those who took advantage of federal relief and partook in pandemic-related fraud.

And those hoping for more federal relief dollars to help alleviate pains from the pandemic were likely disappointed: Biden did not point to any new measures that suggest any additional federal aid. But he did advocate that Congress pass other measures, one being the Bipartisan Innovation Act (which looks to invest in new technologies and American manufacturing).

Still, if there’s one takeaway from Biden’s Covid-related remarks, it’s this: “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives.”

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