“Congress hasn’t passed the Build Back Better agenda — yet. And free community college is no longer a part of that package. We knew this wouldn’t be easy — Joe has always said that. Still, like you, I was disappointed,” she added.
Biden, a longtime educator currently working as an English professor at a Northern Virginia community college, has for the last several years pushed for the inclusion of two years of free community college for eligible students as part of then-candidate Joe Biden’s campaign platform and then as part of the Biden administration’s legislative agenda. Her remarks Monday signaled the defeat of that legislative goal, one of her primary initiatives as first lady.
The President’s Build Back Better plan has faced an uphill battle inside Congress, involving intense negotiations after receiving significant pushback from key Senate Democrats, notably centrists Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The original Build Back Better bill included $45.5 billion for states to offer two years of free community college tuition for a period of five years. However, in a news conference last month, President Biden told reporters he was worried that component of his spending plan would not make the final cut.
“There’s two really big components that I feel strongly about that I’m not sure I can get in the package,” he said. “One is the child care tax credit, and the other is help for cost of community colleges.”
The admission Monday by the first lady in her remarks to the assembled community college leaders was the first time she had confirmed that agenda item was dead.
She compared Washington political jockeying to sporting events, noting that the back-and-forth on Capitol Hill, while expected, can take for granted an administration’s larger social agenda.
“Too often, we treat what happens in our nation’s capital like a sports game too — wondering which team will score the most points with voters. Legislation becomes a football to keep away from the other side, and Americans get lost in the playbook,” Biden said. “Governing isn’t a game.”
The first lady added that she and the President would continue to push for free assistance for community college students.
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