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Biden’s economic message needs a reality check

President, progressive elites display disconnect with working-class voters

For those skeptical of Joe Biden’s ability to deliver on his inauguration promise to “always level with you,” the past year has proved them right, Winston writes.
For those skeptical of Joe Biden’s ability to deliver on his inauguration promise to “always level with you,” the past year has proved them right, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Joe Biden made a lot of promises to the American people in his inaugural address, most of which he has broken over a disastrous first year in office. But none have been more egregiously untrue than this bit of “inventive rhetoric,” made in the closing moments of his inauguration remarks: “I will always level with you.”   

Given Biden’s dismal track record on defining what is truthful and his deserved reputation for gaffes over his 50 years in public office, it’s not surprising that some people were more than skeptical of his ability to deliver on that promise. They haven’t been disappointed.  

But most Americans, as they almost always do with new presidents, were willing to give Biden a chance — to unify the country and keep it safe, defeat the coronavirus, and continue the economic recovery already underway. Biden was given a long leash and a lot of leeway to govern, particularly by the media. 

Instead of using that opportunity to promote a centrist agenda, his pronouncements over the past year have veered from head-scratching assertions to downright whoppers. There are too many to highlight in a thousand words, but Biden’s claims on the economy simply don’t jive with reality.

In remarks on December’s jobs report, the president claimed that “the economy as a whole is stronger than before the pandemic.” Is he right? Not according to government data.

In March and April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, the country lost more than 22 million jobs.  The number of jobs recovered between May 2020 and January 2021 — a nine-month period — was slightly more than 12.5 million jobs, leaving Biden, as he took office, with a jobs deficit of 9.8 million.

Between February and December 2021 — 11 months — 6.2 million jobs were created, but Biden failed to reach the pre-pandemic employment levels, with slightly over 3.5 million jobs yet to be recovered.

Biden also bragged about December’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate, but is it better than the previous administration’s? From February 2019 to February 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, the unemployment rate was below 3.9 percent, and in the last two months, January and February 2020, it was at 3.5 percent.  

And inflation? The last time the monthly consumer price index inflation rate was higher than today at 6.9 percent was almost 40 years ago, in June 1982, when it reached 7.2 percent. Yet, Biden says things are better now than before the pandemic and then expresses astonishment after learning from a family friend that ground beef is $5 a pound. Most people would just be happy to find ground beef on their grocery store shelves this week, or chicken or fresh produce, while Biden inexplicably boasts of progress on the supply chain. 

When Biden says things like wage increases are outpacing inflation, while omicron cases are hitting record levels and worker shortages are strangling businesses coast to coast, it reinforces his longtime credibility problem and creates a disconnect with the American people. This pattern of unsubstantiated claims goes beyond the usual White House spin and simply doesn’t ring true with a growing number of voters. 

Failure to connect

Per our Jan. 2-4 Winning the Issues survey, our first of the year, what we’re seeing isn’t a “failure to communicate” on the part of Biden, his administration and congressional Democrats, but a failure to connect with the reality most Americans are facing and the priorities people want addressed.

Fifty-one percent of survey responders said they disapproved of the job Biden was doing to handle inflation, with only 37 percent approving.

When asked the same question about his handling of gas prices, voters disapproved, 50 percent to 38 percent.

When asked which was the more important priority for the country, 66 percent said it was dealing with inflation and the scarcity of goods caused by supply chain problems, while only 25 percent picked passing Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Among independents, the gulf was even wider at 69 percent to 19 percent.

The survey also asked voters whether the White House was or was not prepared for potential variants of the coronavirus, keeping in mind Biden’s central campaign promise to “shut down the virus.” Only 29 percent said Biden and his team were prepared, while 59 percent believed the administration wasn’t prepared to handle the variants.

And finally, when asked in our end-of-November survey to select which two issues were “giving them the most difficulty,” gas prices topped the list at 53 percent, followed by food costs at 52 percent, the cost of health care and insurance at 27 percent, and taxes and household utilities and goods tied at 25 percent.

Biden and the progressive elites, especially in Washington, simply have no idea what life is like for working-class folks. There is no better example than the constant statements from the White House asserting that Americans have more money in their pockets than before the pandemic. But because people have so much money, the Biden team tells us, they are buying more goods than they normally would, which, in turn, is creating the supply chain problem.  

However, our January survey found that only 25 percent of voters believed that they had more money in their pockets now than before the pandemic, while 56 percent did not. This is a clear disconnect, and every time the White House spins this talking point, a significant majority of the country is trying to figure out whom they are talking about.

This is compounded by the president and his congressional enablers pushing the Build Back Better bill when most people’s priorities couldn’t be more different.

Biden will give his State of the Union address on March 1, the latest date for any president in history. Every president wants to say that the state of the union is good and strong, united and secure.

That is clearly not the case today, and Biden’s penchant for painting a rosy picture that conflicts with reality won’t convince an increasingly unhappy public. Unlike the elites, they live the Biden economic reality every day.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as an election analyst for CBS News.

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