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Democrats are embracing Bidenomics. Both parties say that’s a good thing.
As President Joe Biden steers toward his re-election campaign with a tour promoting his economic record, congressional Democrats are pointing to cooling inflation, low unemployment, a cap on insulin prices, and a steady roll-out of infrastructure projects as evidence that their agenda has delivered benefits for everyday Americans — and will continue doing so as next year’s races for the White House and Congress unfold.
“You can call it Bidenomics, you can call it significant progress. I think what the middle class wants to see is that these are policies that are working,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House. “Over 13 million jobs created by the Biden-Harris administration, record (low) unemployment numbers, inflation lowering months and months in a row. These are positive, strong signs to growing the middle class from the middle out and the ground up.”
The problem for Aguilar, Biden, and battleground Democrats facing tough re-elections: Polls suggest that after three years of high inflation, most voters aren’t sold on Bidenomics.
“I hope he keeps it up. It’ll be good for the campaign,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the Republican whip.
“The American public does not agree that this is a much better economy,” Emmer said. “They’re not buying it. And they shouldn’t, people are struggling at home.”
Senate Republicans asked about “Bidenomics” immediately quoted the president’s polling average on the issue, as compiled by the web site Real Clear Politics: fewer than 39% of voters approve of his work on the issue.
“It’s amusing that he’s stuck his name on the policy and he’s not that popular himself, even among Democrats,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Democrats countered daunting polling by arguing that voters will increasingly see the upside of their work as time goes on, and they hope, lower inflation becomes normal again. Democrats are planning to highlight those results with events built around groundbreakings for roads and bridges, broadband expansion, and other projects over the coming August recess and throughout the 2024 cycle.
“Not all of it you can feel right away,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who represents one of the country’s most closely divided districts. “But I do think Bidenomics is exactly what he should be talking about.”
‘Tangible things people can see’
Biden has emphasized the economy as a triumph of his first term, an effort he continued Thursday when he spoke at a shipyard in Philadelphia. In a state that’s crucial to control of the presidency, Senate, and House, Biden promoted an offshore wind project vessel to be built by more than 1,000 workers, with steel plates made in Indiana, and which the White House pointed to as an example of the benefits of his administration’s investments in clean energy.
Biden might not have much choice but to talk about the economy. The issue consistently ranks as voters’ top concern, and no president can run away from economic conditions on their watch — no matter how much, or little, they did to shape the results.
While other issues will also factor into the outcome of the 2024 campaign, including individual candidate quality and debates over abortion, crime, health care, and border security, Democrats in tough races predicted that the economic news this year and next will be increasingly positive.
“There’s a powerful story to tell about the impact he’s made since he’s been president and that our Democratic Senate has contributed to,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who’s seeking re-election in a Midwestern battleground.
The most recent data has shown the lowest inflation rate in more than two years. Unemployment remains low. Wages have started growing faster than costs. Some analysts are downgrading the chances of a recession. The stock market has surged. And Democrats say the public is only beginning to absorb the results of their work.
Baldwin and other Democrats pointed to the infrastructure projects, a $35 insulin price cap, and investments in green energy and semiconductor manufacturing spurred by laws they passed — sometimes with GOP support, sometimes without.
“There’s more positive change yet to come,” Baldwin said. “There are the things that are highly visible — the roads being built, the bridges being secured, the relief people feel when they know that when they turn on their faucet, there’s not going to be lead … There are some very tangible things that people can see.”
Democrats believe when voters are given a choice between Biden and the GOP, they’ll reject Republicans who, under former President Donald Trump, passed a tax package weighted toward the wealthy, and whose right wing recently threatened the country with a default by resisting an increase in the federal debt ceiling.
“There is a real lack of understanding between the GOP and the, you know, people who work for a living across this country,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.).
Reminding voters about prices
Republicans say it’s Democrats who don’t understand.
“They are trying to memory-hole the last three years of the president’s term, the economic pain they’ve inflicted on everyone in America,” said Jack Pandol, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.
Some 62% of American adults disapprove of Biden’s handling of inflation, according to a Monmouth University poll released this week. There was a nearly even split when it came to his work on jobs.
Biden has been shadowed throughout his presidency by inflation, which took off early in his term and, despite pronouncements that it was a short-term problem, proved persistent. While rising prices have been a global phenomenon, and economists vary on how much of the US price spikes can be chalked up to government spending as opposed to wider economic factors after the pandemic, most believe the vast programs rolled out by Biden, and Trump before him, at least contributed to the problem.
Democrats argue that their bills were a necessary bridge after the pandemic, and that inflation was better than an anemic recovery. But Republicans say the spending was excessive, and came after the worst of the emergency had passed.
“Republicans are going to be reminding voters of high grocery costs, high gas prices, the things that have taken a bite out of family budgets, and reminding people who is responsible for that,” Pandol said.
A changing election environment
Democrats faced an even more difficult political environment last year, when inflation was running much hotter, and they still fared far better in that election than most analysts expected. This year, they’re hoping that good economic news puts the wind at their backs. Though given the unpredictability of the economy, it’s also possible the opposite happens: That a downturn inflicts economic pain just before voters weigh in on Biden’s leadership.
Republicans say they’re not wishing for that. But they’ll point to Bidenomics if it does.
“We’re all hoping for a soft landing, but that’s by no means assured,” Cornyn said. “We could well be in a recession at some point in the not too distant future. I hope that’s not true, but I don’t think the American people are particularly pleased with President Biden’s handling of the economy.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tamari at firstname.lastname@example.org