washington - U.S. President Joe Biden followed up his State of the Union address with a trip Wednesday to the Midwestern state of Wisconsin to herald what he sees as the country's economic advance on his watch.
Opposition Republicans, meanwhile, were calling for an end to what they call runaway government spending that Biden has sanctioned during his two years in the White House.
The president visited a training center for the Laborers' International Union of North America in the village of DeForest to discuss manufacturing jobs. Wisconsin is a perennial political battleground in presidential elections and almost certainly will again be a focal point in 2024, both for Biden as he nears a formal reelection bid in the coming months and his eventual Republican opponent, whether it is former President Donald Trump or someone else.
Under Biden, the U.S., with the world's biggest economy, has added hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month as it recovers from the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic that started in 2020.
The country's 3.4% unemployment rate is the lowest in 53 years. But Republicans and Democrats alike say the country's consumer price inflation rate, while easing in recent months, is still too high at an annualized 6.5% in December.
Additionally, congressional Republicans and Biden are sparring over increasing the government's $31.4 trillion debt limit, the amount it can borrow to pay its financial obligations. Republicans want sharp - but to date, unspecified - cuts in government spending in exchange for increasing the debt limit by June.
That's when the government is expected to run out of enough money in tax revenues to pay all its bills. Biden wants an unconditional debt limit increase but is willing to separately discuss future government spending.
Biden and new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have started talking about how to increase the debt ceiling but appear far from reaching an agreement in what are likely to be protracted discussions.
President Joe Biden takes a photo with Gov. Tony Evers, D-Wis., right, after arriving at Truax Field Air National Guard Base, Feb. 8, 2023, in Madison, Wis. Biden was in Wisconsin to promote his economic agenda.
After his Wisconsin visit, Biden was to head Thursday to another political battleground, the Southern state of Florida, where Trump lives during the winter months. In Tampa, Biden will accuse Republican lawmakers of wanting to shrink pension and health care benefits for older Americans, a potent issue in Florida where millions of retirees have settled.
Biden struck an optimistic, determined tone Tuesday in his second State of the Union address, lauding his legislative and policy achievements, reiterating his stances on contesting China and supporting Ukraine, and proclaiming that "though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken."
"Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the union is strong," Biden said.
"I'm not new to this place. I stand here tonight - and I've served as long as about any one of you have ever served - I have never been more optimistic about the future of America,' he said. 'We just have to remember who we are. We are the United States of America, and there is nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together."
Benefits of spending
In the speech, he sought to explain how hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for infrastructure, climate change controls and computer chip manufacturing that he supported in the last two years will benefit Americans in the coming years.
A handful of Republican lawmakers heckled Biden during the speech, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia calling him a "liar" when he suggested that at least some Republicans wanted to curtail funding for the pension and health care insurance plans for older Americans.
Biden seemed to enjoy the moment, and he prodded the hundreds of lawmakers in the House of Representatives chamber to stand in a show of support for not trimming funding for the Social Security and Medicare programs.
McCarthy tweeted after the speech: "Republicans offer a vision for a future built on freedom, not fearmongering."
His deputy, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said on Twitter that Biden was "living in an alternate universe. Families can't afford gas or food - and they feel unsafe in their communities."