President Joe Biden will pitch new actions against two of the biggest killers of Americans ― fentanyl and cancer ― during his State of the Union speech, White House aides told reporters on Tuesday morning.
During the Tuesday evening speech, Biden will ask Congress to permanently list fentanyl as a Schedule I drug, the same level as heroin and LSD, aides said. He’ll also ask lawmakers to reauthorize two major pieces of legislation funding cancer treatments.
Both steps are part of what the Biden administration calls its “unity agenda,” a series of broadly popular and bipartisan goals Biden first laid out in last year’s State of the Union. The other major planks of the agenda are aiding veterans and tackling the mental health crisis.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said the administration made progress on all these goals over the past year: passing the PACT Act to help veterans exposed to burn pits, removing obstacles to access the anti-overdose drug narcan, providing funding for cancer research and increasing mental health funding for kids as part of a bipartisan deal to combat gun violence.
“What you’ll hear the president talk about in tonight’s State of the Union is a desire to keep moving forward on that work ... and continue working with members of Congress of both parties to deliver results for the American people,” Bedingfield said.
President Joe Biden, shown arriving at the White House of Monday, will emphasize the ongoing battles against fentanyl overdoses and cancer in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.
The administration revealed proposals on Monday to quadruple a tax on stock buybacks and install a minimum tax for billionaires ― two proposals far less likely to win over the GOP.
The move to permanently list fentanyl as a Schedule I drug is likely to draw pushback from doctors, progressives and at least some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Schedule I drugs are defined as having no legitimate medical uses, while fentanyl has long been used as an anesthetic and painkiller.
Progressives and members of the CBC have argued moving the drug to Schedule I amounts to doubling down on the same “War on Drugs” policies that they have long derided as failures.
“It’s important to protect Americans from the threat of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances,” said Rahul Gupta, the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, the most recent year for which full data is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That was a 15% increase over 2020, with deaths from fentanyl driving the spike.
Cancer remains the second-leading cause of death for Americans, behind heart disease. Biden made reducing cancer deaths a personal mission following his son Beau’s death from brain cancer, and he will ask Congress to reauthorize the National Cancer Act ― which first created the National Cancer Institute 50 years ago ― and to continue to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H.
The administration also plans to take more actions to encourage people to quit smoking cigarettes, which remain a major cause of cancer.
Aides laid out plans for other pieces of Biden’s agenda as well.
His new budget will triple the number of low-income veterans who qualify for housing assistance, administration officials said, noting the number of homeless veterans declined by 11% between 2020 and 2022.
The Education Department plans to announce $280 million in grants to help “high-need” school districts hire mental health professionals, one of a slew of steps the administration is taking to improve teen mental health, White House aides said.