By Isabella Troia
President Joe Biden visited the University of Tampa campus to give a speech in historic Plant Hall’s Fletcher Lounge. He focused on his plans for protecting Social Security and expanding Medicare.
In what the Tampa Bay Times called a “likely preview of messaging for his yet-to-be-announced reelection campaign,” President Biden emphasized the strength and success he believes America has experienced under his executive power. He noted the proven capability of Democrats and Republicans to work together to approve bipartisan legislation, such as the Respect for Marriage Act, the Bipartisanship Infrastructure Law, and the Violence Against Women Act.
The main topic was the protection of Social Security and the expansion of Medicare; two issues that have become a point of contention in Congress. In his State of the Union (SOTU) address, given earlier in the week, President Biden faced a Republican majority who he states, “[it is] their dream to cut Social Security and Medicare.”
Akin to his speech at UT, Biden’s State of the Union touted economic progress and legislative achievements of the last year; though, according to a Washington Post survey, 62% of Americans think Biden has not accomplished much during his first two years in office.
The SOTU was an attempt to bolster public opinion. In addition to bipartisanship productivity, he spoke about low unemployment rates, reduction of the national debt, but above all, he was adamant about taking social security and medicare off the so-called “legislative chopping block.” His messaging on continued American prosperity and congressional harmony carried over to his speech at UT, with a few exceptions regarding specific Republican politicians.
His 23-minute speech transitioned from a plea for bipartisanship to a call out of Republican officials who wanted to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act and the Affordable Care Act.
On each guest’s and media attendee’s chair there was a pamphlet titled, “A 12 -Point Plan to Rescue America” with Florida Senator Rick Scott’s name. Upon opening the pamphlet, readers do not find a plan, but language that criticizes the proposal made by Senator Scott to “sunset Social Security and Medicare every five years;” meaning the programs would need to be reauthorized by Congress as if they were a new piece of legislation, every five years.
He continued speaking of the Republican party. He noted that his predecessor, Donald Trump, increased the national deficit by 25% and gave major tax cuts to the wealthy. Biden, however, cut the budget by $1.7 trillion and promised “No one making less than $400,000 will pay an additional penny in tax,” he states.
Returning to Social Security and Medicare, the president assured that any attempts of repealing the ACA or the Inflation Reduction act or cutting benefits would be vetoed. He noted Florida’s rejection of the Medicare expansion plan and warned of Republican threats to default on the US debt if their demands were not met.
A default on US debt has never before occurred and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has stated it would lead to “economic and social catastrophe.” Continuing his plea, Biden states, “Why in God’s name would we give up the progress we made for the chaos they’re suggesting?”
He closed his speech by returning to recognizing the successes of his last two years in office, though he recognizes there is still a lot to work toward. He is optimistic about the future of America.
This was President Biden’s third time at the UT campus; he visited twice as Vice President in 2010 and 2016. The President was welcomed to Tampa by Mayor Jane Castor, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, and Congressman Darren Soto. The three interacted with some of the invited UT students from Student Government and the UT Democrats Club.
As a UT alumna, Mayor Castor was honored to welcome the President. When asked for her thoughts on his speech, she said, “I thought it was outstanding talking about how many seniors we have here in the state of Florida and the need to lower prescription drug prices and provide medical care for everyone. I’m especially glad that he came to my alma mater.”
Though the event was not announced less than 24 hours before its occurrence, UT’s campus was buzzing; abound with news crews, secret service and an eager student body hoping to catch a glimpse at the country’s leader. Inside Fletcher Lounge, a few lucky UT students got to meet and take selfies with the president in true Gen Z fashion.
Student Government Senior Senator Emma Gervais said, “The best part of his speech was pushing for bipartisanship because I feel like our country is really divided. If it truly is one of his main focuses that would be amazing. This whole opportunity was amazing.”
Outside the event the student population was consumed with the historic occasion on their own college campus. Students lined the sidewalks outside Plant Hall awaiting the presidential motorcade arrival and later departure. Over 100 students gathered poolside at the Alex Riseman Aquatic Center to watch a live stream of the President’s speech. Many students were wandering the back of Plant Hall where entrance to the event was, hoping to get in on the excitement.
UTampa Votes volunteer, Will Arnold said, “I think it shows how important UT is to the Tampa Bay community, the fact that President Biden chose this venue to speak. I think it’s a really exciting opportunity for all the students here.”
The excitement towards the president is not as infectious once you look outside the realm of UT. According to Reuters, 52% of registered Democrats do not believe Biden should seek a second term. Though he has not announced his candidacy, Biden is expected to run unopposed in the primaries.
Currently, the president is in the midst of an FBI investigation regarding classified documents he had in his Delaware home and a debt limit standoff with Republicans. He recently received a clean bill of health after a long awaitied physical examination; publicizing the details of a president’s medical exam is not required but traditionally expected by the public.