Biden’s fix for inflation: Process, not progress

If the president were a doctor, he’d be a pretty bad one

Despite the best efforts of President Joe Biden, people aren’t swayed by esoteric discussions about inflation when the price of eggs is up, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Despite the best efforts of President Joe Biden, people aren’t swayed by esoteric discussions about inflation when the price of eggs is up, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 21, 2022 at 6:00am

Imagine you’re rushed to the hospital with a 105-degree fever. A few hours later, in comes the doctor, who tells you he’s got good news. Your temperature has dipped to 104.5. 

When you protest that you’re still very sick and need relief, the doc soothingly says, “You’ll be fine. Getting better is a process … a process.” Now, substitute Joe Biden for the doctor and the country’s calamitous inflation rate for what ails you, and that’s a pretty good analogy for what’s worrying America.

Like a clueless doctor ignoring his patient’s distress, Joe Biden’s incomprehensible explanations for the near-historic inflation slamming American households are neither convincing nor based in any kind of reality. And people know it every time they get sticker shock at the gas pump or the grocery checkout.

Yet, despite terrible economic data and equally bad approval numbers, Biden has been out there declaring “we’re back” like an over-the-moon cheerleader without the pom-poms. His “60 Minutes” interview Sunday was prime Biden, as he told Scott Pelley that the “inflation rate month to month was just an inch, hardly at all.”

Pelley pushed back, asking, “You’re not arguing that 8.3 percent is good news?”

Biden offered up this word salad, “No, I’m not saying it is good news. But it was 8.2 percent or — 8.2 percent before. I mean, it’s not — you’re ac — we act — make it sound like all of a sudden, ‘My god, it went to 8.2 percent.’ It’s been —”

Pelley pushes back again, “It’s the highest inflation rate, Mr. President, in 40 years.”

Biden: “I got that. But guess what we are. We’re in a position where, for the last several months, it hasn’t spiked. It has just barely — it’s been basically even. And in the meantime, we created all these jobs and prices have gone up, but they’ve come down for energy. … So, I — look, this is a process. This is a process.”

Thanks, doc. I feel much better now.

What isn’t better is the economy, no matter how Biden and his team try to spin it. 

Last week, as Biden and a few thousand of his closest friends were celebrating the passage of the dishonestly named “Inflation Reduction Act” with a party on the South Lawn, the Dow was crashing 1,200 points and crushing retirement accounts across the board. But “What, me worry?” Biden ignored the markets and instead boasted to the crowd that gas prices had gone down $1.30 a gallon since the start of summer. What he didn’t say was that the price of gas in the latest consumer price index was still 25.6 percent higher than a year ago at this time. 

Additionally, in the latest survey for Winning the Issues (Sept. 9–11), 71 percent said they don’t believe the statement “gas prices are now reasonable.” 

Biden also failed to mention that electricity prices, which have been on a steady rise since his first month in office, rose from 2.3 percent year-over-year in February 2021 to 15.8 percent in August 2022.

Food costs continue to go up and show no sign of slowing down, as this month’s consumer price index clearly shows. Putting food prices in historical context is even more shocking. One data point, the “Food at Home” CPI for all Urban Consumers, shows that the last time food price increases spiked as high as today’s 13.5 percent year-over-year, Jimmy Carter was president. Back then, food inflation hit 13.6 percent in March 1979. 

The WTI survey found that the top two household expenses giving people the most difficulty remain gas prices and food costs. Back in March, when voters were asked to choose two in a list of seven household expenses, gas prices at 57 percent surpassed food costs at 44 percent as the top item. Since then, food costs (in a combined choice) have now surpassed gas prices by 61 percent to 44 percent as the toughest expense people face. 

Also from the new WTI survey, 52 percent of the country says the personal economic and lifestyle impact of inflation has been either difficult or catastrophic, particularly among lower income people at 62 percent and middle income at 53 percent. Two-thirds of respondents, 67 percent, said they believed the statement that “at 8 percent inflation, people are losing the equivalent of one month’s income of their yearly income.”

Biden doesn’t fare any better when it comes to inflation overall. Only 19 percent of people think inflation will be better by the end of the year. Thirty-five percent said inflation will stay about the same, but, significantly, 40 percent said they expect inflation to get worse. Because inflation has been so high for so long, six straight months of 8 percent or more, skeptical voters aren’t likely to change their attitudes quickly.

Biden isn’t fooling anyone with his happy talk on the economy. People know better. That much can be seen in key metrics in the last two WTI surveys. In the July 23–24 survey, voters said the economic direction of the country was on the wrong track by 21 percent right track to 66 percent wrong track. It was little changed in this most recent survey, with 25 percent right track to 62 percent wrong track. 

When asked in July if they believed the country was in a recession, people agreed by a 61 percent to 25 percent margin. In August, 59 percent said we were in recession, while 24 percent disagreed.

Clearly, despite the best efforts of Biden, his economic team and his intrepid press secretary, people aren’t swayed by esoteric discussions about inflation and recession when the price of a dozen eggs is up 40 percent. 

In his divisive “Red Speech” in Philadelphia, Biden told America, “Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal.” But what is not normal is a president going to the extremes of Joe Biden in recent weeks to peddle a false narrative of economic renewal as families struggle from paycheck to paycheck. 

That’s real life in America — not Biden world, where process substitutes for progress.

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 serving as an election analyst for CBS News.