The Democratic president invited Republicans, who have been staunchly opposed to him so far, to assist in the passage of a wide range of laws, from taxation to police regulation and gun control and immigration.
During the address, Republicans sat mostly passively while Democrats cheered.
“It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to pay their fair share – just pay their fair share,” Biden said.
He made his plea in the House of Representatives at an event scaled back this year because of the pandemic, removing his mask to speak to a group of about 200 Democratic and Republican lawmakers, other officials and guests.
Biden is trying to thread the needle between Republicans opposed to more spending and the tax increases needed to pay for it, and liberal Democrats who want him to push for more aggressive plans.
He said he was willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to come to an agreement, and he is to meet top Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the White House on 12 May to try to find common ground.
But the initial Republican response to his speech was sceptical, and somewhat dismissive.
“This whole thing could have just been an email,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, said in a tweet.
Speaking less than four months after demonstrators loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in a bid to overturn the election results, Biden said America was “on the move again.”
“We have stared into an abyss of insurrection and autocracy – of pandemic and pain – and ‘we the people’ did not flinch,” he said. “At the very moment our adversaries were certain we would pull apart and fail, we came together – united.”
Biden argued that his proposals for families and infrastructure, which together total about $4t, represent a once-in-a-generation investment vital to America’s future.
“Tonight, I come to talk about crisis – and opportunity,” he said. “About rebuilding our nation – and revitalizing our democracy. And winning the future for America.”
Republicans say most of the spending is aimed at satisfying Biden’s liberal base, and that the president’s plans amount to socialism.
Biden said the spending plans were needed to keep up with China, which he and his administration see as a major strategic challenger.
“China and other countries are closing in fast,” he said, adding that he has spent a lot of time talking to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“He’s deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world. He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can’t compete in the 21st century with autocracies. It takes too long to get consensus.”
Proposed tax overhaul
Biden’s plan includes $1t in spending on education and childcare over 10 years and $800 billion in tax credits aimed at middle- and low-income families. It also includes $200b for free, universal pre-school and $109b for free community college regardless of income for two years, the White House said.
The American Families Plan and the infrastructure and jobs plan the White House introduced this month could represent the most significant government transformation of the economy in decades.
To pay for the plans, Biden has proposed an overhaul of the US tax system, including raising the top marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans to 39.6 percent from its current 37 percent.
Biden has proposed nearly doubling the tax on investment income – known as capital gains – for Americans who earn more than $1m. The $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan is funded by an increase in corporate taxes.
News of the capital gains tax proposal caused stock markets to drop briefly last week.
Republican US Senator Tim Scott argued in his rebuttal to Biden’s speech that the proposals will hurt long-term economic growth.
“Our best future won’t come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams,” said Scott, the sole Black Senate Republican. “It will come from you – the American people,” Scott said.
He also argued that Biden’s presidency was benefiting from an economic recovery for which Trump, a Republican, set the stage.