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President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union speech last night, providing lawmakers, the American people, and the world with a broad view of the administration’s priorities. 

He touched on many of the most pressing political issues of our time: The ongoing war in Ukraine, the need to raise the debt ceiling, and last year’s historic climate action in Congress.  

But even in a 90-minute speech, some critical topics remained unmentioned or underdiscussed—issues that are vital to the current and future state of our country and our world.  

The president also lifted up some of FCNL’s key priorities for the 118th Congress. For instance, he called for a full restoration of the expanded Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty nearly in half. He also urged further investment in community intervention programs like violence interrupters, which focus on street-level outreach and conflict mediation. And he honored the life of Tyre Nichols while calling on Congress to take meaningful steps toward justice reform through the introduction and passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We echo the president’s call to action on these overdue steps.  

But even in a 90-minute speech, some critical topics remained unmentioned or underdiscussed—issues that are vital to the current and future state of our country and our world.  

So, we took a crack at filling the gaps of the president’s address. Call it the “State of the Union for Peace and Justice.”  

Overinvesting in War, Underinvesting in Peace 

At the end of 2022, Congress authorized a staggering $858 billion in military spending, an increase of nearly 10% over fiscal year 2022 levels. This was $45 billion more than the White House requested, and it was handed over despite the Pentagon having failed five consecutive audits.  

Peacebuilding work, meanwhile, remains woefully underfunded. Despite some key increases in funding for peacebuilding last year, total appropriations came out to just 0.5% of the Pentagon budget. That means the U.S. government spends one dollar on peacebuilding for every $200 that we spend on war.  

This discrepancy is a budgetary and moral failure. Correcting it should be a top priority for Congress and the administration.  

Prioritizing Environmental Justice 

The president celebrated last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and pointed to some of its immediate benefits, including tax credits and incentives for renewable energy, incentives for electric vehicles, and $60 billion in funding for environmental justice initiatives. 

But we also know environmental action must center the needs of those most impacted by pollution and oil and mineral extraction. Black, brown, and low-income communities are more likely to live near pollution sources, be exposed to carcinogens, and have their homes and livelihoods damaged by climate disasters.  

The president missed an opportunity to promote the Environmental Justice for All Act, which would fortify environmental regulation, improve healthy equity, and support frontline organizations. Lawmakers should swiftly re-introduce and pass this bill in the 118th Congress as we continue our transition to a greener economy and more equitable society. 

Finally Repealing the Iraq War Authorization 

It’s been nearly 20 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and almost 12 years since the declared end of military operations there. Yet, the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (2002 Iraq AUMF), passed by Congress to green-light the intervention, remains on the books.  

Legislation to repeal this outdated authorization garnered strong bipartisan support in the last Congress, and similar legislation is expected to be introduced soon. Lawmakers and the administration should throw their full support behind it.  

Repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF would be a major step forward for Congress in reasserting its constitutional authority over matters of war and preventing future presidents from abusing the authorization.  

Looking Beyond Arms Sales to Ukraine 

This Feb. 24 will mark one year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Thus far, the United States’ response has largely consisted of a flood of military aid to Ukraine.  

But history has taught us that you cannot resolve international conflicts by military means alone. Instead, our leaders should be asking, “How can the United States support a diplomatic resolution to this conflict?” Unfortunately, this question was not broached in the State of the Union. 

Diplomacy may not be the flashiest option, but it’s the best one available. The longer the war goes on, the more people will suffer and the greater the risk of nuclear catastrophe. Lawmakers and the president need to shift course.  

Creating a Humane Immigration System 

The president got a few things right on immigration: Congress desperately needs to advance bipartisan solutions. We need to go beyond simply saying we need a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure holders, farmworkers, and essential workers; instead, we need to actually create one.   

But the president’s messaging on the U.S.-Mexico border fell short. Safety, dignity, and order should be defining qualities of migration along the southern border, but honoring those goals will be impossible unless we protect the right to seek asylum and solidify humane reception as a part of migration management. Humanity and empathy must always undergird U.S. border policies.  

Alex Frandsen

Alex Frandsen

Communications Strategist

Alex Frandsen served as a member of FCNL’s Communications Team from 2019-2023. Through close collaboration with the office’s various teams, he worked to connect FCNL’s work and messaging with the broader world.