“We are the only country that has emerged from every crisis stronger than when we got into it,” Biden said. “Look folks, that’s what we are doing again.”
Biden, whose approval numbers have rebounded significantly since last summer when more American disapproved of him than approved by a 20-point margin, took to the dais to boast of an economy that has recovered the millions of jobs it lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and which could gain millions more in the coming years thanks to the $2 trillion in high-tech, green energy and infrastructure investments he has pushed through in his two years in office.
“Look at the progress that we’ve made, particularly the recent progress that we have made with inflation coming down, gas prices coming down, real wages, as a result, going up,” said Brian Deese, Biden’s director of the National Economic Council. “We have come through this recovery recovering people’s economic security historically fast and historically equitable. And we have to keep making progress on it.”
Biden, who turned 80 in November, has said for months that he intends to run for a second term but did not feel compelled to make a firm decision until this year.
Last spring and summer, following a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan and amid spiking inflation rates, Biden’s approval numbers dipped into the mid-30s. But after inflation began easing, the Supreme Court overturned the national right to abortion and coup-attempting former President Donald Trump inserted himself into the national conversation, Biden enjoyed the best midterm election performance of any president in decades.
Republicans only barely won back the House, rather than picking up 40 or 50 seats, as they had expected, and lost a seat in the Senate – results that Biden and his staff attribute to his leadership.
“He has a record over the last two years that shows that he has delivered,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said.
Like presidents have done historically, Biden has been and continues to take credit for improvements in the economy that had little to do with his policies.
Entering office just as the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was passing, Biden took over at a moment when both the economy and the government’s financial picture realistically had nowhere to go but up. Millions of people returned to work, and the federal government phased out the welfare payments to keep businesses and their employees from going bankrupt while much of the economy had shut down.
Today, some 12 million more Americans are employed than on the day of his inauguration, while the federal deficit has gone down $1.7 trillion.
However, the flip side of taking credit for the economy’s successes is being blamed for its problems.
Most Americans, polling shows, remain worried about the economy, despite record-low unemployment, largely because of still-high inflation. Many economists believe that resulted partially because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago drove up oil prices and partially because of all the cash the government put in Americans’ pockets to ward off a depression during the pandemic.
Biden, of course, did not encourage Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s invasion, and of the $5.7 trillion the government spent in COVID response and relief payments starting in March 2020, a full 67% took place prior to his administration.
Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said Americans’ unhappiness about the state of things is understandable. “It’s not because people can’t find jobs, it’s because the money they are paid isn’t going far enough to make ends meet or to get ahead,” he said. “Treading economically in place is not good enough for most Americans.”
David Axelrod, the Democratic consultant who helped Barack Obama win two presidential terms, agreed that the cost of living affected views but also wondered how much unease the pandemic left behind. “I believe there is lingering anxiety from a pandemic that has had reverberations in the way we work and how workplaces are structured that may add to the stew of discontent,” he said.
Biden and his staff point out that inflation is not confined to the United States and that we are better off than most others. “If you go around the world, if you talk to heads of state, see heads of state, CEOs, other leaders ― they will tell you, you know, that the United States really is better positioned than almost any other country,” Deese said.
Likely more important for Biden’s success going forward are concrete results from three key pieces of legislation he pushed through Congress since taking office: a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act to bring silicon microprocessor research and manufacturing back to the United States and, most recently, the $485 billion “Inflation Reduction Act,” a large portion of which promotes alternative energy development.
“This is a year of action and investment and implementation where, across those areas,” Deese said, “you’re going to see this unfold in more and more ways.”