President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, Wednesday in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris look on. (Jim Watson | Pool | AP)

President Joseph Biden was optimistic Wednesday evening, looking back on his first 100 days in office and forward to his next 1,361. He declared that “America is on the move again,” and outlined an ambitious agenda for post-coronavirus America.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, reacted to that address Thursday. He graded it an A, saying he would have liked a little more talk on immigration reform, but that overall he felt the president did a good job.

Gonzalez echoed Biden’s confidence Thursday, predicting the next decade will be a resurgence backed by federal dollars — a rising tide the Rio Grande Valley will be a part of.

“I’m very optimistic that this next year we’re just gonna expand like never before,” he said. “Our doors are gonna open, our economy’s gonna thrive and it’ll be like the roaring ‘20s again.”

Biden outlined almost $6 trillion in spending Wednesday, about $2 trillion of which has already gotten the greenlight. Those funds are supposed to be injected into infrastructure and coronavirus relief and expanding the country’s social safety net.

Does the product of that plan justify the price tag? Gonzalez says it’s a no brainer.

“We’ve lost more Americans to this virus than we’ve lost in the last five wars. So the investment — I don’t consider it an expense — the investment is justified in renewing the economy.

Gonzalez said that money will help re-forge a country fractured by the pandemic. He said it will help unshutter businesses, reopen schools and ensure everyday Americans can pay for the necessities.

“Without this investment I think we’ll be crippled,” he said. “We need to assure that Americans are on their feet, that people have food on the table, a roof over their head.”

In the long run, Gonzalez said the still mighty American economy will be able to pay the tab for the spending.

“We’re still the largest economy in the world, and our economy is doing well and it will be growing tremendously over this next decade as we make our way out of this pandemic,” he said. “So this is just an investment after what we’ve just been through to get us through the next decade, and I think it was the last shot in the arm that the American economy needed to continue to thrive for the next decade and beyond.”

A local business owner who hopes to be the beneficiary of some of that federal aid was Gonzalez’s virtual guest to Biden’s address and spoke with the congressman Thursday.

Bert Guerra, co-owner of Cine El Rey in downtown McAllen, said he was part of a chorus of entertainment venues who called for elected officials to remember them while drafting the country’s recovery plan.

Venues like Cine El Rey were among the first businesses to close and will likely be among the last to open, Guerra said, adding that the structure of his business made it difficult to receive federal aid early in the pandemic.

“Because we’re very unique, the way we have employees,” he said. “We have a lot of freelancers, a lot of entertainers, a lot of gig workers. And so we weren’t able to get the aid we needed based on the guidelines that were first presented.”

The Save Our Stages Act which was signed into law on December 27, 2020 promising $16 billion in relief to entertainment venues and businesses. Guerra said he applied for aid Monday and is now looking at the long process of re-permitting the business, stocking its bar and paying deposits for entertainers.

“It’s quite a bit of money just to start organizing again,” he said.

Gonzalez, a supporter of the Save Our Stages Act, said venues like Guerra’s are critical socially and culturally.

“Preserving these businesses means preserving art, music, and a way of life. I’ve joined this bipartisan letter because I recognize that it’s long past time to give relief to these operators,” he wrote in a statement.


mwilson@themonitor.com