Biden struggles to improve Americans’ view of the economy


The flurry of activity in recent days reflects an urgent and intensified campaign to convince Americans that Biden is bringing the country back to prosperity, an effort that is expected to last until the November election. But so far, Biden has had surprisingly little luck persuading voters, buffeted by high inflation, that the economy is headed in the right direction, despite many signs of strength.

The White House is well aware of the problem. “It’s a really complicated question,” said Cecilia Rouse, chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, when asked Friday why Biden isn’t getting credit for good economic news.

Rouse said the White House sees data showing that people feel their own finances are “pretty healthy,” but “they see the kind of uncertainty in the economy that’s out there.” She added: “We are a pandemic-scarred society. It’s not just the economy. There is uncertainty as we navigate our way out of this pandemic.

The administration’s sensitivity to price increases is reflected in its policy towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden officials on Friday spoke of the danger of higher gas pump prices as they weigh whether to ban U.S. purchases of Russian oil, even as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were urging Biden to do more to punish Moscow.

Economists generally support the White House’s assertion that the current recovery is exceptionally strong. “He’s got an extremely positive story to tell, and somehow he’s getting beat up like we’re in the Great Depression,” said Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which focuses on the plight of low- and middle-income Americans.

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the U.S. economy created a blockbuster 678,000 jobs in February, while unemployment fell to 3.8%, the lowest since the pandemic began. It capped 10 straight months of strong growth, with the economy adding 7 million jobs and seemingly heading towards pre-pandemic strength.

But in a November Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 37% of registered voters — and 28% of independents — approve of Biden’s handling of the economy.

White House aides privately say Biden needs to increase how often he speaks about positive economic news, and they point to Democratic polls that suggest American families feel good about their individual circumstances while pessimistic about the country in its entirety.

Biden’s allies expect a steady pace of announcements and travel in the spring and summer designed to dampen what Democrats increasingly fear see as damaging political dynamics in the medium term. The White House is already planning at least one event on the economy next week that has yet to be announced, according to a White House aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the president’s schedule. “We think repetition is really important,” the assistant said.

But any message of good economic news now rivals the explosive crisis in Ukraine for public attention. Vice President Harris will visit Poland and Romania next week, for example, to show America’s commitment to its NATO allies.

Biden’s allies argue the economy isn’t the only area where he’s accomplished far more than is often given credit.

Beyond the huge job growth, they say, the president has in recent days assembled a global alliance to counter Russia; introduced Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to favorable reviews; delivered a generally well-received State of the Union address; and touted the end of mask mandates in many parts of the country, signaling a closer return to pre-pandemic normalcy.

Republicans disagree and they see the economy, particularly inflation, as a winning issue in November. The morning after the State of the Union address, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Senate that Biden had “tried to skate through the serious kitchen table issues that keep American families awake at night” and that his spending plans “would make inflation even worse.”

But the White House says it can benefit from Biden’s contrasting approach with that offered by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the head of the National Republican Senate Committee, who late last month proposed that most Americans who do not pay income tax are required to do so.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Friday that raised eyebrows in the White House, Scott doubled down on his idea, which would affect those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes. “Even if it’s just a few dollars, everyone should know what it’s like to pay taxes,” Scott wrote. Other leading Republicans, including McConnell, have disavowed that idea, spotting the political peril.

The White House sees an opportunity to reclaim one of the president’s favorite sayings – “Don’t compare me to the Almighty.” Compare me to the alternative. The administration is eager to compare Scott’s proposal with Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year.

The White House also plans to highlight Senate Republicans’ blockade of Biden’s Federal Reserve nominations. Senators oppose candidate Sarah Bloom Raskin, who they say is too liberal on issues like climate change, but Democrats say the move hurts an agency that deals directly with inflation.

Biden got some good news this week. A poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist released on Friday suggests Americans may be starting to change their minds, with 47 of respondents saying they approve of Biden’s handling of the economy – a nine percentage point increase from a similar investigation conducted before the State. of the address of the Union. Overall, the poll signaled a broad improvement in Biden’s standing, but it’s too early to tell if that change will be confirmed by other surveys.

Part of the problem Biden faces is psychological, said Felicia Wong, president of the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute.

Americans tend to blame inflation on outside forces over which they have no control, including the government, Wong said. But when it comes to good economic news — like lower unemployment or higher wages — people often see it as a reflection of their own hard work and don’t credit the government, she said.

Still, some experts say Biden could do more to fight inflation. Several economists have recommended, for example, that Biden try ideas such as a gas tax waiver, which has been discussed on Capitol Hill, or another round of stimulus checks for low-income people, may -be funded by relying on companies that have profited generously during the pandemic.

White House aides, however, played down the idea that further policy changes are on the way.

Biden’s latest event to highlight strong economic news came on Friday, when he said, “Americans are back to work.” He added: “My friends, America is coming back. It really is.”

He noted that the fall in unemployment from 6.4% when he took office to 3.8% in February was “the fastest drop in the unemployment rate in recorded history”, and that the creation of 7 .4 million jobs during his presidency was also a record.

But the president tempered his optimism a bit with a nod to inflation-hit Americans. “Yes, family budgets are still tight,” he said. “But a lot of Americans are getting more paychecks this year than last year.” He added, “However, many families are still struggling to make ends meet due to inflation. I understand. Our absolute priority must be to control prices. »

Biden’s event focused on his decision to change the rule that determines whether a product qualifies as “made in America” ​​so that it gets preference when the federal government buys a product.

Under the Buy American Act of the 1930s, goods could be purchased by the federal government with taxpayers’ money if they were “substantially all” made in America. Concretely, this means that only 55% of their parts must be manufactured in the country to be eligible. On Friday, Biden announced he would raise that standard to 75% by the end of the decade.

To me, 55% isn’t “virtually everything”. It’s a little over half,” Biden said. “’Substantially everything’ is going to start to mean practically everything.

Biden called the update the biggest change to the rule in 70 years. He had touted it in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, saying the federal government was spending about $600 billion on goods.

“There’s been a law on the books for nearly a century to make sure taxpayer dollars support American jobs and businesses,” Biden said Tuesday night. “Every administration – Democrat and Republican – says they will, but we actually do it.”

White House officials said late Thursday that they don’t know what percentage of assets purchased by the federal government will meet the new threshold. An aide said the administration is considering a later rule that would allow the government to identify which parts of an item are made in the United States.

The change will take place gradually over the coming years. Goods will have to have 60% of the value of their components made domestically by next year, rising to 75% by 2029, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

Biden was joined at Friday’s event by Barbara Humpton, CEO of technology company Siemens USA. The federal government is Siemens’ biggest customer, Biden said, and the company announced the rule change would see them invest about $50 million in making components for electric vehicles and data centers in the states. -United. The expansion will take place in California and Texas.

Similarly, Schneider Electric announced in November the construction of a new 160,000 square foot manufacturing facility in El Paso as part of a $100 million regional investment. In a statement, Schneider Electric North America CEO Annette Clayton said the rule change “affirms” the company’s decision to make the investment, adding that it “gives a lot of optimism to the industry to take further action”.


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