NORFOLK, Va. (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden on Monday called on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay their “fair share” to fund free community college and other benefits for workers as he promoted part of his $1.8 trillion families proposal in Virginia.
Visiting Tidewater Community College with first lady Jill Biden, the president said his proposed expansion of the U.S. public education system would rebalance the economy and benefit lower-income Americans.
The United States could provide two free years of post-secondary education by raising the top income tax rate to the level it was in 2001, Biden said. He has proposed increasing the top marginal rate for the wealthiest Americans to 39.6% from 37%.
“The choice is about who the economy serves. And so I plan on giving tax breaks to the working-class folks and making everybody pay their fair share,” he said.
He’s also seeking over $80 billion for Pell Grants to help college affordability and $62 billion for programs that could improve completion rates at community colleges and institutions that predominantly serve disadvantaged students.
The president said that education was the key to the country’s dominance and that people needed classes beyond high school for the nation to be globally competitive.
“When America made 12 years of public education universal in America in the early 1900s, it made us the best educated nation in the world,” Biden said. “The rest of the world has caught up to us. They’re not waiting. And 12 years is no longer enough to compete with the world in the 21st century and lead the 21st century.”
The Democratic president faces significant opposition from Republicans to his tax and spending plans, even with his promise that individuals making less than $400,000 annually will not be affected. Democrats hold slim majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Biden has vowed to work with lawmakers from both parties, but no Republicans voted for his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, the biggest legislative achievement of Biden’s presidency so far.
He may have less than two years to fulfill his big campaign promises if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress in the November 2022 election.
The president and top administration officials are traveling the country to stir up enthusiasm for his proposals in the hopes that public support will translate to Republican votes in Congress.
Community college is an issue of personal importance to the Bidens. The first lady is an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.
“My students, like all the students here, I’m sure, come from every walk of life,” she said. “They show up, they don’t complain, and all they ask is for one thing in return: the chance to work hard and build a good life for themselves and their families.”
Biden joked that advocacy for community colleges was crucial for his own marital happiness.
“I have to admit if I didn’t have these positions I’d be sleeping on Lincoln bedroom,” the president teased.
The Bidens began their trip by touring a fifth-grade class at Yorktown Elementary School. The students had clear shields in front of their desks as a guard against the coronavirus.
EXPANDING FREE SCHOOLING
The school visits are part of a tour to sell Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to rebuild roads, broadband and other infrastructure, and a social-spending package that includes $1 trillion on education and childcare over 10 years and $800 billion in tax credits aimed at middle- and low-income families.
The second plan would expand America’s 13 years of free public schooling at both ends, adding two years of preschool for 3-and 4-year olds and two years of community college for those who have completed high school.
Funded by higher taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, the two proposals taken together would amount to the biggest domestic spending initiative since the 1960s.
“It is paid for by making sure corporate America and the wealthiest 1% pay their fair share,” Biden said.
Biden and other advocates promote community college as an affordable, accessible gateway to a wide range of careers, from nursing to advanced manufacturing.
During the United States’ industrial heyday in the 20th century, workers could easily find factory jobs that paid a middle-class wage with only a high school degree or less.
But globalization and automation have spurred employers to demand a higher level of skills, including deeper technical knowledge and broader critical-thinking abilities, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Now, two out of three U.S. jobs require some sort of education or training beyond high school.
Community colleges typically provide two years of education, leading to either an associate’s degree or a start on a four-year college degree.
Roughly 11.8 million students were enrolled in 1,044 U.S. community colleges in 2019, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Tuition averaged $3,770 a year, about one-third of the cost of a four-year public college.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.