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Why Biden’s economic spin doesn’t hold up

Democrats have turned cherry-picking into an art form

President Joe Biden can spin the numbers all he wants, but inflation is still a big problem, Winston writes.
President Joe Biden can spin the numbers all he wants, but inflation is still a big problem, Winston writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rex Stout, creator of the great detective Nero Wolfe, said, “There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.” As an admitted numbers guy who grew up poring over Yankees stats, I couldn’t agree more. 

And it’s especially true in political debate, where calling out spin, once the job of the media and the opposition, has been delegated to a handful of self-appointed critics, many without the impartial fortitude that digging deep into data requires. 

Nowhere does that play out more evidently than in the economic policy arena, where political leaders and their supporters use and abuse statistics to make their case to voters without the due diligence many of their claims deserve. But despite the wealth of economic data that is easily accessed online to prove or disprove a particular assertion, spin has simply gotten the better of fact-based examination. 

Both sides are guilty of employing selective statistics to win an argument, but, over the past year, the Biden White House and congressional Democrats have turned the phrase “cherry-picking data” into an art form.  

So, with less than six weeks until the congressional midterms and the economy topping the list of voter concerns, here are some critical numbers (based on publicly available federal data) that people won’t get from the White House. 

Inflation

President Joe Biden would have you believe that inflation, one of the country’s two top issues, is “zero,” as he likes to put it, or just “an inch.” 

A deep dive into the consumer price index numbers shows that the Democrats’ happy talk on inflation is just that. Here’s a quick comparison of year-over-year inflation data for key consumer categories in January 2021 — the numbers Biden inherited — and the same data for August 2022.

  • Overall CPI: January 2021, 1.4 percent; August 2022, 8.3 percent
  • Gasoline CPI: January 2021, -8.6 percent; August 2022, 25.6 percent
  • Home Food CPI: January 2021, 3.7 percent; August 2022, 13.5 percent
  • Electricity CPI: January 2021, 1.5 percent; August 2022, 15.8 percent
  • Medical Care CPI: January 2021, 1.9 percent; August 2022, 5.4 percent
  • Apparel CPI: January 2021, -2.5 percent; August 2022, 5.1 percent

Economic growth

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, if nothing else, has been consistent in her attempts to sell the idea that last year’s economic growth was “historic” and the American economy is strong and heading in the right direction. One can only speculate as to what she is talking about.

Here’s how she put it Friday when asked about the pace of economic growth: “So, I talked about this a little bit already, how we’re coming off of last year’s historic economic growth. A lot of that is because of the work of this president and Democrats in Congress passing the American Rescue Plan, which puts us in a position where we saw the most stable growth, strongest growth that we have seen in modern history.” 

Just to set the record straight. Ronald Reagan delivered four higher quarters of economic growth than Biden. Here are the numbers:

  • Reagan (1983) — second quarter, 9.4 percent; third quarter, 8.2 percent; fourth quarter, 8.6 percent
  • Reagan (1984) — first quarter, 8.1 percent
  • Biden (2021) — first quarter, 6.3 percent; second quarter, 6.7 percent; third quarter, 2.3 percent; fourth quarter, 6.9 percent
  • Biden (2022) — first quarter, -1.6 percent; second quarter, -0.6 percent

The first two quarters of this year, the gross domestic product has been under water, putting the country technically in a recession, a far cry from Jean-Pierre’s stable and strong economy. 

Unemployment

Last week, Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, said at The Atlantic Festival, “It’s easy to forget that when Joe Biden came to office, we’d turn on the TV at night, people were in line in football stadiums, looking for a box of food. The unemployment rate was nearly 10 percent.”

Actually, it was the Trump administration that faced the highest unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, 14.7 percent in April 2020, as the country reeled from lockdowns. By the time Biden came into office, there was a vaccine already in distribution, the economy was recovering and unemployment had been cut by more than 8 points to 6.4 percent in the last nine months of the Trump presidency, a testament to the strength of the economy pre-COVID. 

Also worth noting, during those same nine months, the Trump administration created 12.5 million jobs. Biden has created 9.7 million jobs in 19 months. 

In fact, it took the Biden administration 18 months to get the unemployment rate down to its recent low of 3.5 percent in July. August saw it tick up to 3.7 percent. Truth be told, since Biden took office, the country managed only last month to finally recoup the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Stock market 

On Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2021, the Dow was at 31,188 and the Nasdaq at 13,457. On Monday, the Dow had sunk to 29,261 with the Nasdaq sliding to 10,803.

Yet, only a week ago, when Biden was asked about the plunging stock market after the latest inflation numbers were released, he seemed to have a classic Alfred E. Neuman moment as the “What, me worry?” president told reporters, “The stock market doesn’t necessarily reflect the state of the economy, as you well know. And the economy is still strong. … I think we’re going to be fine.”

Tell that to the approximately 145 million Americans invested in the stock market who’ve seen losses in the neighborhood of $9 trillion since January. Or public pensions, which The Wall Street Journal reported “returning a median minus 7.9% for the fiscal year ended June 30, their worst losses since 2009, according to data from Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service.” Or to retirees, people with IRAs ready to retire, corporate 401(k) holders and others trying to save for the future.  

Federal revenues

When Biden took office in January 2021, federal revenues for 2020 had been $3.421 trillion. This year, CBO projects that revenues will come in at $4.836 trillion, a 41.4 percent increase over 2020, the result of the tax structure that has been in place since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in December 2017. One might think a 40-plus percent increase would be enough to cover Biden’s outsize spending agenda, but, instead, he and his supporters on the Hill have decided to raise taxes.

If Biden’s job approval is any indicator, people clearly understand that the economy is in trouble thanks to Biden’s disastrous economic agenda that began with the American Rescue Plan. 

Numbers matter.

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.

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