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Biden’s Ireland trip overshadowed by events — foreign and domestic

By using outdated statistics, team Biden has been disingenuous at best, columnist writes

Gas prices over $5 a gallon are displayed at a filling station on April 12 in San Rafael, Calif.
Gas prices over $5 a gallon are displayed at a filling station on April 12 in San Rafael, Calif. (Getty Images)

Last week on his extended visit to Ireland, President Joe Biden joked to his Irish counterpart, “I’m not going home. I’m staying here.” Avoiding the obvious partisan retort, I’ll just say he may have been on to something because he returned to what has been nothing but bad news.

Topping the list, a disastrous leak of highly sensitive intelligence documents by a low-level Massachusetts Air National Guard member, which has called into question the White House’s credibility on a range of foreign policy issues. More unsettling saber-rattling by an increasingly emboldened China over Taiwan’s independence has only added to worries that our national security posture is deteriorating.

Here at home, violent mobs of teens trashed Chicago’s famous Loop, just days after the Democratic National Committee had selected the Windy City for its 2024 presidential nominating convention.

Meanwhile, as Biden celebrated his Irish heritage, Senate Democrats found themselves at a standstill in moving forward some judicial appointments and key legislation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein out due to illness. And then there’s the looming debt ceiling stalemate, thanks to the president’s refusal to negotiate with Republicans over spending cuts they are demanding.

Welcome home, Mr. President.

Biden is facing a growing number of serious domestic and foreign policy challenges, but his biggest problem remains the overall state of the economy. Five days in Ireland did nothing to improve an economy that, despite the administration’s best efforts to spin it otherwise, is likely to slip into recession this year, according to more and more fiscal experts, including at the Federal Reserve.

Whether the country does or doesn’t officially end up in a recession, people are growing increasingly impatient with a president who has become a master of manipulation when it comes to using economic data to create a self-serving narrative on the state of the economy. They know better, and their instincts are right.

Biden and his economic team like to paint a rosy economic picture by focusing on unemployment and year-over-year inflation numbers. In a White House statement, Biden had this to say about the March Consumer Price Index: “Inflation has now fallen by 45 percent from its summer peak. Gas prices are down more than $1.40 from the summer, and grocery prices fell in the month of March for the first time since September 2020.”

Mostly true only if comparing year-over-year data, but overall: Misleading.

Last month’s economic data tells a different story. Gas prices were actually on the rise. Retail sales and manufacturing output were both down in March. Banks are cutting back on lending and housing starts took a 17.2 percent hit in March. What about inflation overall?

Biden is accurate in saying inflation has come down compared with a year ago, using the Consumer Price Index. That’s good news. But when inflation hits 9 percent as it did last summer with food and energy costs reaching levels not seen in decades, Biden’s simple year-on-year comparison distorts the real picture of what continues to be a rocky economy. His so-called progress only looks good in the rearview mirror of 12 months, not when compared to prices when he took office.

It was this disconnect with reality that was the impetus behind the creation of the Presidential Inflation Rate (PIR), which The Winston Group first released last month. This rate gives a truer picture of just how much prices have increased since Biden came into office through a statistical analysis that can be applied to the cost of specific commodities and services as well. The analysis also compares the records of recent presidents, starting with Jimmy Carter, at the same point in time in their tenures.

What we found is that, contrary to the Biden administration’s rosy claims, the Presidential Inflation Rate actually went up last month from 15 percent in February to 15.4 percent in March. Only Carter had a higher PIR than Biden at this point in his presidency, measuring data from the inaugural month.

Gas prices are a perfect example of this disconnect with reality. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas prices rose to a national average of $3.77 per gallon for the week ending April 17, which is significantly higher when compared to the national average of $2.46 per gallon the week Biden took office in 2021.

To put this in context, if we simply looked at gas prices based on last month’s CPI year-
over-year, gas inflation has declined by over 17 percent as Biden likes to tout. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

But when compared with the month Biden took office, the Presidential Gas Inflation Rate of 45.9 percent shows gas prices have increased substantially since he took office.

While the price has come down since last summer, the EIA numbers confirm the PIR for gas, which shows there has actually been a significant increase in gas prices since the end of December 2022. That will come as no surprise to anyone filling up their tank this week.

To tell people the cost of a gallon of gas is getting better using outdated statistics, as Biden and his team have done, is disingenuous at best. It’s a little like telling someone, “Okay, so last year your retirement funds went down $50,000, but this year it’s only going to be a $20,000 loss. That’s real progress.”

When it comes gas and other commodities, only by using a year-over-year comparison can Democrats claim what amounts to a hollow victory over inflation as Biden’s own poll numbers continue to slide.

In last week’s Economist/YouGov national survey (April 8-11), Biden’s job approval on handling inflation was 36 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove. Among independent voters, it was even more negative: 23 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove.

The poll also found that 54 percent of people said inflation had impacted their own lives a lot. And there was little optimism for the future — 48 percent said they expect a higher rate of inflation six months from now, with only 11 percent expecting a lower inflation rate. When asked about gas prices, 58 percent predicted they will go higher, with only 9 percent saying lower. Independents, here again, were even more negative about both inflation and gas prices.

The Biden administration and Capitol Hill Democrats are doing their best to convince voters that their economic plan is working. But the numbers just don’t add up.

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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