Fact-Checking 7 of Biden’s Claims in His Address to Congress

Fact-Checking 7 of Biden's Claims in His Address to Congress


President Joe Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, nearly 100 days into his presidency. 

Biden spoke to only about 200 masked lawmakers in the spacious House chamber, even though most if not all members of Congress have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and federal health guidelines don’t require such masking and distancing precautions.

The president fist-bumped senators and representatives on his way to the podium, where he delivered his address as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat behind him, keeping their masks on.

“One hundred days ago, America’s house was on fire,” Biden said early on. “We had to act.”

Speaking for just over an hour, Biden talked about numerous issues on his agenda—but wasn’t always truthful. 

Here’s a look at seven instances where setting the record straight may help those evaluating the speech.

 1. ‘Protect the Sacred Right to Vote’

“And if we are to truly restore the soul of America, we need to protect the sacred right to vote. More people voted in the last presidential election than ever before in our history–in the middle of one of the worst pandemics ever. That should be celebrated. Instead it’s being attacked.” 

About 160 million Americans voted in the presidential election in November, a record number, USA Today reported

But conservatives say the left is out to nationalize elections by giving the federal government control over local and state elections, what the president apparently meant when he said voter turnout is “being attacked.”

Congressional Democrats’ legislation, which they call the For the People Act, would override states’ authority to conduct their elections, mandate “no fault” absentee ballots, and make it easier “to commit fraud and promote chaos at the polls through same-day registration,” according to a backgrounder from The Heritage Foundation. 

Democrats’ legislation, known in the House as HR 1 and in the Senate as S 1, also would mandate states to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote. This move, “when combined with a ban on voter ID and restrictions on the ability to challenge the eligibility of a voter … would effectively ensure that underage individuals could vote with impunity,” Heritage’s paper says.

The legislation also would provide taxpayer money for candidates for federal office, require nonprofits to disclose donors, mandate that states allow voter registration on Election Day, allow felons to vote, and allow ballots to be counted outside voters’ home precincts.

“Congress should pass HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and send them to my desk right away,” Biden said. “The country supports it. Congress should act.” 

Biden is partly correct on this point. An Associated Press poll in April found that about half of those surveyed said they support expanding access to early and mail-in voting, which HR 1 and S 1 would do. 

However, the legislation also would eliminate most state voter ID laws, which require anyone who wants to vote to first show a recognized form of identification.

A Fox News poll this week found that 77% of Americans say “a valid form of state or federally issued photo identification to prove U.S. citizenship” should be required for voting.  

2. Tax Cuts ‘Added $2 Trillion to Deficit’

“Look at the big tax cut in 2017. It was supposed to pay for itself and generate vast economic growth. Instead it added $2 trillion to the deficit.” 

In his speech, Biden pushed for tax increases for high earners and corporations, and took a shot at the tax reform law passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump just before Christmas 2017.

As noted in an analysis last month published by The Daily Signal, the Trump tax cuts did not pay for themselves. But the tax cuts were not the cause of the budget deficit. 

The tax cuts helped to grow the economy, but not enough to shrink the deficit–which is caused by spending, former Heritage tax expert Adam Michel noted. 

Annual budget deficits primarily are the result of a systemic gap between revenues and expenditures resulting from sustained growth in mandatory spending programs since the 1970s. 

If Congress undoes the 2017 tax cuts, the deficit would continue to grow. The tax cuts represent only about 16% of the pre-pandemic budget deficit.

The projected annual deficit in 2030 is bigger than the entire 10-year cost of the Trump tax cuts from 2017. 

After the tax cuts, the economy grew, the labor market improved, and wages increased by more than a percentage point in the two subsequent years, resulting in annual wages of more than $1,400 above trend for production and nonsupervisory workers. 

New job openings increased in 2018, and about 83,000 more Americans voluntarily left their jobs for better opportunities at the end of 2019 and before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. 

According to data from the Internal Revenue Service,  Americans in every income group benefited from lower effective tax rates, which dropped 1.4 percentage points in 2018. 

The tax cuts that took effect in 2018, as a percentage of taxes paid in 2017, were largest for the lowest-income Americans and smallest for the top 1% of earners. This means high-income Americans now pay a larger share of income taxes than they did before the Trump tax cuts.

3. Corporations Must ‘Pay Fair Share’

“I will not impose any tax increases on people making less than $400,000 a year. … We’re going to reform corporate taxes so they [corporations] pay their fair share–and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from.” 

Between 75% and 100% of corporate tax increases are passed on to workers through lower wages and less investment, according to past analysis from Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis, and the Congressional Budget Office. 

These estimates indicate that, even without tax hikes for “people making less than $400,000 a year,” they would be affected by higher taxes on other Americans.

4. ‘Epidemic of Gun Violence’

“[So-called ghost guns] are homemade guns built from a kit that includes the directions on how to finish the firearm. The parts have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced.” 

Biden, noting that he already has called for a ban on “ghost guns,” asked Senate Republicans to close loopholes on background checks to purchase a gun and again ban high-capacity magazines. 

“I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence,” the president said. “But it’s time for Congress to act as well.”

Gun crimes actually are down from the early 1990s, when Congress passed several gun control laws, according to the Pew Research Center. 

Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, wrote

Neither regulating ‘ghost guns’ nor making gun owners pay a $200 tax for pistol arm braces meaningfully addresses root causes of gun violence. These actions are, in fact, far more likely to turn responsible gun owners into felons than to prevent a single gun death.

5. ‘Add Millions of Jobs’

“Independent experts estimate the American Jobs Plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth for years to come. These are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. … It creates jobs to upgrade our transportation infrastructure. Jobs modernizing roads, bridges, and highways. Jobs building ports and airports, rail corridors and transit lines. It’s clean water.” 

Despite Biden’s calling his proposal an infrastructure bill, less than 6% of the spending in it would go to building roads, bridges, and other projects typically associated with infrastructure, according to a Fox News analysis

Referring to a White House summary, the Fox News analysis said the proposed American Jobs Plan, with a price tag of over $2 trillion,  would spend only $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, roads, and roads. 

A more broad definition, allowing for “infrastructure resilience,” Amtrak, broadband, airports, and road safety, stretches infrastructure spending to $750 billion. 

The proposal includes hundreds of billions in other spending, such as $400 billion for home-based elder care; $35 billion for climate change research; $50 billion for “research infrastructure” at the National Science Foundation; and $213 billion for “home sustainability” and public housing.

6. ‘Vaccinating the Nation’

“We’re vaccinating the nation … After I promised 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in 100 days, we will have provided over 220 million COVID shots in 100 days.”

Biden did surpass his initially stated goal of a million vaccine doses given per day. However, according to a Washington Post analysis published two days after Biden’s inauguration, the Trump administration already was closing in on that target with nearly 1 million vaccinations administered per day. 

The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed spurred drug companies and agencies to develop and approve two different COVID-19 vaccines by the time Biden took over.

The Post analysis noted “greater manufacturing certainty and the increased pace of inoculations in the final days of the Trump administration.” 

The Post added:

Even with vaccine shortages and bottlenecks in delivery, the pace needed to meet the new administration’s goal—1 million doses administered per day—was already achieved [Jan. 22] and four other days of the previous eight, according to Washington Post data. The accelerating speed of the program undercuts assertions by some Biden advisers that they were left no plan by the Trump administration and suggests they need only to keep their feet on the pedal to clear the bar they set for themselves.

7.  ‘American Families Plan’

“We add two years of universal, high-quality preschool for every 3- and 4- year-old in America.  … And then we add two years of free community college.” 

Studies cast doubt on the effectiveness of government-funded prekindergarten programs. 

In 2012, for example, a Department of Health and Human Services study of Head Start tracked 5,000 3- and 4-year-old children through the end of third grade. The study found the program had little to no impact on parenting practices. 

Researchers at Vanderbilt University evaluated Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program. They reported no significant differences in achievement by the end of kindergarten.

Regarding “free” community college, in England tried and discarded the idea of taxpayer-funded college after three decades encompassing the 1960s through  the 1980s. Officials there determined that the program hurt low-income students when colleges capped enrollment.

Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.

COMMENTARY BY

Jason Bedrick@JasonBedrick

Jason Bedrick is director of policy at EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based education reform organization founded by economists Milton and Rose Friedman.

Lindsey Burke@lindseymburke

Lindsey M. Burke is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy and Mark A. Kolokotrones fellow in education. Read her research.

At first glance, Nebraska’s K-12 education system seems to be doing fairly well. On the fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading components of the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Nebraska students scored slightly above average overall.

But a closer look shows a more worrisome picture.

The Urban Institute reanalyzed the NAEP data while controlling for students’ age, race or ethnicity; special education status; free and reduced-price lunch eligibility; and their status as English language learners.

The institute found that Nebraska students’ adjusted scores on each of the tests were significantly lower. The state’s adjusted overall scores are middling at best, and some are below average.

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Even worse, Nebraska’s achievement gap is wider than the national average and growing.

In 2011, the black-white achievement gap was 22 points on the eighth-grade NAEP reading test and 35 points on the eighth-grade NAEP math test. Ten points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is the equivalent of about a year of learning, so a decade ago black eighth graders in Nebraska were about two to three-and-a-half years behind their white counterparts.

On the most recent NAEP, the black-white achievement gap had grown to 30 points on the eighth-grade reading test and 42 points on the eighth-grade math test. In other words, Nebraska’s black students now are behind white peers by about three to four-plus years of learning.

Last week, Nebraska state policymakers from both sides of the aisle pleaded with their colleagues to do more to close the achievement gap.

That gap is widening despite extensive, expensive efforts to close it. Over the past two decades, untold initiatives by state government bureaucratsschool district officials, and related associations and private philanthropies have attempted to close Nebraska’s achievement gap, but to no avail.

It is time to try something different. Nebraska policymakers should start by empowering families with more education options.

According to a recent study by the University of Arkansas, states with more robust education choice policies—such as school vouchers, tax credit scholarships, K-12 education savings accounts, and charter schools—tend to see achievement gains over time on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

After controlling for factors such as per-pupil education spending, student-teacher ratios, teacher quality, household income, and more, the study found that “expanding parental options in education, in all its forms, is consistent with improvements in average student performance for U.S. states.”

One of the states with the most robust environments for education choice is Florida. According to the University of Arkansas study, students in Florida not only have been significantly outpacing the national average in achievement gains, but the gains are even higher among the most disadvantaged students:

While the NAEP scores of low-income 4th- and 8th-graders averaged gains of three to seven points across the U.S. during those 16 years, scores for low-income students in Florida surged 10-17 points. Florida students who did not qualify for a free or [reduced-price] lunch made academic gains, but they were smaller and much closer to the national average for such students.

Source: “Education Freedom and Student Achievement: Is More School Choice Associated With Higher State-Level Performance on the NAEP?” University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform

The study also highlighted the experience of Arizona, which received the top score on the Educational Freedom Index. The study noted that from 2009 to 2015, “Arizona students were the only state group to show statistically significant gains in all six NAEP exams” (fourth- and eighth-grade math, reading, and science).

As one of the study’s authors explained in Newsweek:  

Stanford University’s Opportunity Project recently published nationwide data showing that Arizona students had the highest level of academic growth from 2007 to 2018. Arizona students and educators also achieved the highest rate of academic growth both for all students and for low-income children.

In other words, education choice is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Expanding choice and competition encourages traditional public schools to step up their performance. And those who have the most to gain are those disadvantaged students who were the most choice-deprived under the status quo that assigns students to public schools based on where they live.

State policymakers who want to see students improve their academic performance increasingly seek to expand their education options.

So far this year, nine states have passed four new choice policies and expanded 10 existing ones. Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. Three states—Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia—adopted new policies creating K-12 education savings accounts; Florida significantly expanded its ESA program.

At the forefront is West Virginia, which had limited options until this year when it passed the most expansive education choice policy in the nation: a state-funded K-12 education savings account for all children switching out of a public school or entering kindergarten.

Cornhusker policymakers can do much more to establish policies that have been shown to close the achievement gap. At the forefront of these is expanding education opportunity for all Nebraska students, especially the most disadvantaged.

With more and more states across the country doing just that this year, there’s no reason to put off education freedom for families any longer.

This commentary was updated within eight hours of publication.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.