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From left to right: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speak to supporters of then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a campaign event in Clive, Iowa, on January 31, 2020. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

From left to right: Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speak to supporters of then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a campaign event in Clive, Iowa, on January 31, 2020. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Progressives Urge Biden to Use Executive Power to 'Deliver for the People'

"President Biden has significant power to effect immediate, meaningful change for people across America, and we urge him to use it aggressively," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Kenny Stancil

Following President Joe Biden's first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a chorus of progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups—frustrated that Biden's legislative agenda has ground to a halt thanks to opposition from the GOP and a handful of corporate Democrats—urged the White House to use its executive authority to the fullest possible extent to improve the lives of working people and secure a livable planet.

"While we continue building support in Congress, President Biden can use his executive power to take action right now to deliver for the people."

"In the midst of a global pandemic, economic recession, and the immense task of rebuilding from the Trump years, the progress the president and our Democratic majority have made in the past year is nothing short of extraordinary," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), pointed out that "wages are up, unemployment is at the lowest rate since 1969, and the United States is the only major advanced economy with its GDP back at pre-pandemic levels."

The expanded Child Tax Credit led to a 32% reduction in hunger and cut child poverty in half nationwide, Jayapal noted, but the popular benefit lapsed in January after right-wing Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined all 50 Senate Republicans in refusing to renew it.

"The challenges that families faced before the pandemic are still with us. That's why in addition to continuing to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy, Congress must make real strides in the promises we made to the American people," said Jayapal, who endorsed Biden's Tuesday night directive for lawmakers to pass legislation to hike taxes on corporations and the wealthy; lower the costs of child care, healthcare, and housing; combat the climate emergency; and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, Jayapal continued, "President Biden has significant power to effect immediate, meaningful change for people across America, and we urge him to use it aggressively."

She added: "The president can use his executive authority to bring down the costs of prescription drugs and stop Big Pharma's price-gouging; decrease carbon emissions to fight the climate crisis; cancel student debt and bolster our economy; protect workers' rights and raise their wages; and provide immigration relief and rebuild our refugee system."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a CPC member who delivered a response to Biden's speech on behalf of the Working Families Party, concurred with Jayapal, saying that the president and congressional Democrats "stopped what could have been an economic freefall" by enacting the American Rescue Plan last March.

"Not a single Republican voted for that relief package—not one," said Tlaib. "We created six million new jobs—and I am inspired to see empowered workers demanding fair wages, stronger benefits, and human dignity."

"After that emergency response, we had a chance to do so much more," Tlaib continued. "President Biden laid out the visionary Build Back Better agenda to create an America where we all have the opportunity to thrive."

"These are tough times for the multiracial working class, and we are looking to elected officials we fought for in 2020 to fight for us."

Democratic lawmakers' first iteration of their stalled reconciliation package provided a "chance to begin to address decades of rising inequality and injustice," said Tlaib, who drew attention to the Build Back Better Act's popular proposals to bolster the nation's lackluster welfare state, facilitate a clean energy transition, and make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share to help fund it.

"No one fought harder for President Biden's agenda than progressives," Tlaib stressed. "But two forces stood in the way: A Republican Party that serves only the rich and powerful, and just enough corporate-backed Democratic obstructionists to help them succeed."

Although legislation moving through the budget reconciliation process is immune to a 60-vote filibuster by the GOP minority, its passage through the evenly split upper chamber requires the support of every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus—including Manchin and fellow conservative Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), another leading saboteur of the Build Back Better Act.

"Some important parts of the president's agenda became law with the infrastructure bill, but we campaigned on doing even more," said Tlaib. "Roads and bridges are critical, but so are childcare and prescription drugs—and we shouldn't have to choose."

Tlaib warned that "Republicans are trying to destroy the political power of working-class families and they're willing to tear down our democracy to do it. They say the violent insurrection on January 6th is 'legitimate political expression' and that corporate Super PAC spending dominating our elections is just free speech."

"While we continue building support in Congress," said Tlaib, "President Biden can use his executive power to take action right now to deliver for the people."

According to Tlaib—who emphasized that Democrats must demonstrate a strong commitment to working people to better the party's odds in the rapidly approaching midterm elections and beyond—Biden can:

  • Cancel federal student debt, which would be a lifeline for millions of Americans and a transformative economic stimulus;
  • Ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling, direct federal agencies to reject permits for new fossil fuel projects, and regulate carbon emissions;
  • Fix our labor rules to allow more workers to access overtime pay;
  • Change how we calculate the poverty line, so that more Americans become eligible for lifesaving federal benefits; and 
  • Take action to break up pharmaceutical monopolies and make lifesaving medicines affordable.

Along similar lines, Sondra Youdelman, campaigns director at People's Action, said in a statement that "these are tough times for the multiracial working class, and we are looking to elected officials we fought for in 2020 to fight for us."

"President Biden's call to cap insulin costs and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices is spot-on," said Youdelman. "But right now, corrupt politicians in Congress are blocking progress. President Biden must stand up to Big Pharma and use his executive power to break pharma monopolies and get communities the prescription drugs they need."

"It's time for President Biden to stop equivocating and fully embrace every tool at his disposal to end the fossil fuel era."

Youdelman also urged Biden to "cancel student debt through executive action and provide urgent relief for millions of borrowers." Noting that Biden promised on the campaign trail "to forgive at least a portion of education-related debt," she said that "it's time to deliver."

Biden's address came on the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) dire new report, which warns that there is "a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all." It also came amid Russia's war on Ukraine, which is connected to the political economy of energy in Europe.

In addition to the IPCC's latest evaluation of the devastating consequences that can be expected if policymakers fail to adequately confront the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis, "the horrors the world is witnessing in Ukraine should be a clarion call to end our global dependence on fossil fuels and the petrostates they prop up," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

"Fossil fuels have driven conflict, human rights abuses, and ecological catastrophes around the world for decades. It's time for President Biden to stop equivocating and fully embrace every tool at his disposal to end the fossil fuel era," added Suckling, whose organization is part of a coalition that has given the White House a roadmap for how to fully utilize the executive branch to address the climate emergency.

Youdelman, for her part, said that "we need our elected officials to reclaim some of the ambition and urgency we had in the aftermath of our coalition defeating Trump together."

"President Biden must seize the moment with strong executive actions that he can take immediately on these issues," said Youdelman. "And the politicians who are stalling in Congress need to get out of the way."


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