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President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., stand and applaud. 

WASHINGTON – Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation were unified in their opposition to President Joe Biden’s Wednesday address to a joint session of Congress.

Biden’s speech called for unity between parties and focused on programs that would invest heavily in infrastructure, the economy, education and social safety nets, things Oklahoma’s all-GOP members of the U.S. House and Senate say are too expensive.

“I was listening tonight for the unity we were promised – the commitment to bipartisanship that Biden promised during his inauguration,” Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement. “I was disappointed – sure, he talked about the idea, but his proposed actions told a different story.”

Biden touted the American Rescue Plan, the bill passed by Congress last month that gave $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans, and argued for two more bills: the American Jobs Plan to address infrastructure and the American Families Plan to address education. Each have price tags in the trillions of dollars.

All three plans together, if passed, would total about $6 trillion in spending, striking concerns from Oklahoma delegation members about fiscal spending.

“This disregard for deficits alarms people across the political spectrum,” Rep. Kevin Hern said in a statement. “Tonight, Biden did nothing to alleviate those concerns, and instead made the argument for even more unchecked spending.”

Biden also made repeated calls for unity, saying that he welcomed talks about his plans with Democrats and Republicans.

“Anyone can stand up and commit to unity and bipartisanship, but it’s much harder – and requires much more integrity – to put those words into action,” Hern said. “To put an Oklahoma spin on it, Biden is all hat and no cattle.”

Rep. Markwayne Mullin accused Biden of hypocrisy in his calls for unity.

“President Biden’s actions so far have been anything but unifying and unfortunately, we heard more of the same from him tonight,” Mullin said. “... President Biden has handed the keys to the White House over to the far-left wing of his party and will continue to do so. This is the wrong direction for our country.”

Rep. Frank Lucas echoed Biden’s calls for Republicans and Democrats to work together, but said Biden’s plans had not allowed for bipartisanship.

“Our fellow Americans elected such a closely divided Congress to ensure bipartisanship. I truly believe Americans are eager to see both parties in Congress work with the president to address the issues currently facing our country,” Lucas said in his statement.

“But sadly, nearly five months into 2021, President Biden and Congressional Democrats have abandoned the idea of bipartisan solutions in exchange for costly, partisan legislation.”

The American Rescue Plan passed the U.S. Senate in March by a 50-49 vote along party lines. It passed through a process called reconciliation, which the Democrats used to avoid the 60-vote majority required to pass legislation.

Each of Biden’s legislative proposals are part of his Build Back Better plan, designed for the U.S. to come back stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans have argued they represent government overreach.

“To say that the president has overreached during his first weeks in office would be a gross understatement,” Rep. Tom Cole said. “[Biden] seeks to persuade the American people that they can have unlimited government services at someone else’s expense. Fortunately, Americans are smarter than that. They know there is no free lunch.”

Sen. James Lankford took to Facebook Live to speak about overreach of the federal government.

“His focus tonight was, every problem that we have, government is the solution. And we just need more government there to be able to do it,” Lankford said.

Hern said the proposals are a gross expansion of government.

“It wasn’t that long ago that Bill Clinton said the age of big government is over, but what Biden promised tonight is the largest expansion of government in our history,” Hern said.

Oklahoma delegation members said Biden skipped over more important crises, and argued that he should be focusing more on the crisis on the Southern border. Biden’s speech included little mention of the former president, but Inhofe praised Donald Trump’s handling of immigration.

“I’m also very concerned about the border, and I don’t think Biden is,” Inhofe said. “Trump’s policies were good. Biden’s aren’t. It’s clearly a crisis -- but Biden still won’t treat it like one.”

Lankford, who traveled to Arizona in March to see the border crisis for himself, said he was disappointed Biden did not speak about the issue.

“[Biden] went through all those proposals he wanted to do but he didn’t talk at all about the wall that literally has gaps in that he has left. The hundreds of thousands of people in the last three months that have illegally crossed into the border and the thousands and thousands he has allowed to come into the country, [Biden] didn’t talk about that at all.”

Freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice also said Biden skipped over the border crisis.

“It’s disappointing that President Biden failed to mention his plan to end the #BidenBorderCrisis during his address,” Bice Tweeted. “This is a national and humanitarian crisis that is causing serious consequences for our country. #unacceptable”

Inhofe said Biden’s speech “wasn’t about unity or policies for all Americans. This was a traditional tax-and-spend Democratic speech with a progressive and environmentalist flair.”

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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