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‘Mega MAGA trickle-down’: Biden sharpens final midterms pitch

Pollster: Democrats’ problem is their ‘base messaging doesn’t hold as much appeal for independents as the GOP issue agenda does’

President Joe Biden speaks with the media on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday before a trip to Pennsylvania.
President Joe Biden speaks with the media on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday before a trip to Pennsylvania. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden is sharpening his final sales pitch for next month’s midterm elections, casting himself as fully in control of a solid economy even as economists and Republicans warn of a coming recession.

What’s more, the Democratic chief executive almost daily describes the Nov. 8 election as a “choice” between his economic approach and that of Republicans, contending that giving the GOP more control over the economy would again drive up prices and send federal deficits soaring.

Biden on Friday morning even trotted out a new snarky tagline for Republicans’ economic plans: “Mega MAGA trickle-down.”

That is a revised version of his derisive “Ultra MAGA” description of an economic blueprint pushed earlier this year by Sen. Rick Scott, the former Florida governor who now heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It comes one day after the resignation of British Prime Minister Liz Truss, the conservative who had pushed, then rescinded, an economic plan for her country that many saw modeled in the style of Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down economics.”

“Republicans in Congress are doubling down on their commitment to explode the deficit once again,” Biden said in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, noting that federal deficits climbed dramatically under the Trump administration. Biden contended Republicans’ plans would add “another $3 trillion to the deficit.”

He spoke from the executive mansion, but the career politician was in full campaign mode Friday morning. In an example of his sharpening campaign trail rhetoric, with the midterms just 17 days away and early voting underway in many states, Biden used this bottom-line attack line, referring to Republicans, should they regain the gavels on Capitol Hill: “They will crash the economy next year.”

Biden, however, did leave himself open to criticism from Republicans and economists by touting what he called “record” deficit reduction during his term, including a “$1.4 trillion decline in the deficit” this year.

He called that “the largest ever decline in the federal deficit” — but the Congressional Budget Office has calculated his student loan debt relief plan would largely offset that deficit reduction work. Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debt for some borrowers, if upheld in the courts, would cost roughly $400 billion, according to the CBO. And that is not counting more generous terms that Biden announced for income-based repayment plans.

[Deficit cut in half last year, but more red ink lurks]

Some Republicans are using the student loan program on the campaign trail to contend Biden has overstepped his constitutional powers. Others are arguing it is an expensive handout to highly educated liberal elites, with red-state voters footing most of the bill.

“Biden’s student-loan handout plan is a DISASTER! Rich liberals with graduate degrees are getting FREE handouts from the government,” tweeted GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, who was chief White House physician during the Obama administration in which Biden was vice president. “The fact is, every dollar they receive was EARNED by a working-class American. DEMOCRAT ELECTION BRIBES!”

‘Life-changing’

The president fired back at such criticism Friday afternoon during remarks at his home-state Delaware State University. “This is a game-changer,” Biden told students there, calling the program “life-changing.”

“Is there enough, my dad used to say, for a little breathing room at the end of the month,” he said. “My student loan program lowers costs for Americans as they recover from the pandemic to give them a little more breathing room.”

Biden is pushing hard on his economic record for a reason. Polls show a majority of voters are indeed worried about his stewardship amid record inflation, high gas prices and widespread worries about a recession. Republicans have tried to benefit from such worries.

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who contends he will be speaker in January if Republicans take back the chamber, told PunchBowl News this week.

“And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, OK, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior,” the California Republican added. “We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right?”

With those comments, McCarthy essentially issued a challenge to Biden late in the election cycle for a showdown next year. The president didn’t back down Friday when asked about McCarthy’s threat, saying he opposes the sometimes-floated notion of simply abolishing the federal debt ceiling. “No,” he told reporters Friday morning in the Roosevelt Room with a slight chuckle. “That would be irresponsible.”

Biden also issued another warning to Republicans, slamming several GOP plans he said would deeply slash several widely used entitlement programs. “Let me be really clear, I will not yield,” he said. “I will not cut Social Security. I will not cut Medicare. No matter how hard they work at it.”

During both public appearances Friday, Biden made clear that he is banking on voters feeling too leery of what Republicans would do with additional power, predicting: “Polls have been all over the place. I think we will see one more swing back in our direction.”

Yet, an Emerson College poll released hours earlier showed voters favoring Republican candidates over Democrats on a generic ballot, 46 percent to 41 percent. “Since last month, congressional Republicans have increased their support by one percentage point, and Democrats have lost four percentage points,” Emerson analysts wrote in a summary of the survey.

Among voters contacted by Emerson who described themselves as “almost certain” to vote this cycle, 51 percent expect to vote GOP, while 41 percent are leaning toward Democratic candidates. Among those who said they will “probably” vote, the red side also had a sizable edge, 45 percent to 34 percent.

‘It’s a choice’

In that poll and a list of others, economic issues are identified by voters as their top issue this fall.

Fifty-four percent of voters surveyed earlier this month, for instance, by New Jersey’s Monmouth University said the economy and the higher cost of living outweigh concerns about democracy and fundamental rights (38 percent). Biden’s visit to Pittsburgh on Thursday to tout a bipartisan infrastructure law and Democrats’ domestic spending measure showed how the White House is courting independents in key swing states with control of the House and Senate on the line.

“A major problem for Democrats is their base messaging doesn’t hold as much appeal for independents as the GOP issue agenda does,” said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth’s Polling Institute. “Even though truly persuadable independents are a rather small group these days, this small difference can have a major impact, given the expectation that congressional control will hinge on a handful of very close contests.”

That is likely why the president, who is sometimes called “Scranton Joe” for his blue-collar upbringing, is increasingly willing to take a few swings at GOP candidates while firing up Democratic big-dollar donors.

“We’re at a point where there’s not a lot of real Republicans left,” Biden said Thursday night at a fundraiser for Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is locked in a tight race for the state’s open Senate seat with Republican Mehmet Oz, a celebrity television doctor.

“The folks running this party are the MAGA Republicans. They have a very different view about the government role. They have a different view of the world, and it’s really consequential.”

Speaking to supporters at the posh Union Trust venue, Biden summarized the election: “It’s a choice,” he said. “What direction do you want to see this country going?”

Voters, through their economic habits and polling responses, have been sending mixed signals. Biden, on the other hand, has become more and more blunt in recent weeks — even willing — unlike former first lady Michelle Obama, in her words — to “go low.”

The longtime senator from the First State mockingly told Democratic donors in the City of Brotherly Love that Oz might have attended high school in Delaware, but “Delaware was smart enough to send him to New Jersey.”

Peter Cohn contributed to this report.

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