White House embraces ‘Bidenomics’ as it seeks to woo sceptical voters

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Joe Biden is making a new push to sell his economic agenda to Americans as the effects of his industrial policies begin to be felt and inflation continues to ease, in a bid to win over voters who have so far been sceptical.

The US president is travelling to Chicago on Wednesday for what his top aides have described as a significant speech on “Bidenomics” at the massive Old Post Office in the city’s downtown.

Biden’s move reflects growing confidence inside the White House that he can gain more political credit for his sweeping economic legislation, which has pumped billions of dollars into infrastructure, clean energy and chips manufacturing as he pursues his campaign for re-election in 2024.

Although more than 13mn jobs have been created during his presidency, polls conducted since late 2021 have consistently shown that Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy. Administration officials hope they now have a better case to reverse that negative perception.

“We’re seeing shovels in the ground, we’re seeing private investment come back to our country. We’re seeing millions of jobs created,” Olivia Dalton, the principal deputy press secretary at the White House, told reporters on Tuesday in a preview of Biden’s speech. “With all of those accomplishments, the president can take this message to the American people and say: ‘This is what Bidenomics is and here’s what we have to show for it.’”

The effort to promote Biden’s economic agenda is not the first. Periodic attempts to tout the economic recovery and pieces of legislation proved a hard sell with voters as inflation rose to 40-year highs. Democrats struggled to campaign full-throatedly on the economy in last year’s midterm elections.

But with the current combination of a robust labour market coupled with falling inflation, senior administration officials believe they are in a stronger place to try to make the case for their policies, to the point that they are for the first time openly using the “Bidenomics” term.

On Monday, the president’s top political advisers at the White House, Anita Dunn and Mike Donilon, wrote a memo arguing that the US was at last “turning the page on failed trickle-down policies” pursued by Republicans — suggesting this would be a top theme of Biden’s 2024 campaign.

Top White House economic officials have also this week been describing ways in which data had been moving in the direction they were looking for — not only declines in inflation and the resilient labour market even in the face of tighter monetary policy, but an industrial construction boom helped in part by manufacturing subsidies and a jump in consumer sentiment to its highest levels since early 2022.

“The president vowed to put in place a very different approach, an approach that grows the economy from the middle out and the bottom up, and that is very focused on growing our middle class,” Lael Brainard, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said. “He’ll note all the ways that his plan is working”.

The White House’s case on the economy has also been helped by the fact that the US has emerged relatively unscathed from the banking crisis that swept through parts of the financial system earlier in the year, and was able to avert what could have been a catastrophic default early this month after Biden reached a deal with Republicans to lift the US borrowing limit.

Administration officials are also increasingly comparing the US economic performance to that of other advanced economies — as well as competitors such as China — to argue that the president’s policies have put the country in a better economic position compared to the rest of the world.

The worry for the White House will be that economic difficulties that unfolded during Biden’s presidency — including rapidly rising prices, labour shortages and supply chain disruptions — have now become entrenched in Americans’ minds as policy failures, even if some have started to ease. Republicans have relentlessly criticised Biden’s economic record, particularly on inflation, with the consumer price index still rising at an annual rate of 4 per cent last month, well above pre-pandemic levels.

“[Biden] has continued to pursue the same kind of big-government, big-spending policies that helped land us in this mess in the first place,” John Thune, a Republican senator from South Dakota, said earlier this month. “And so it’s frankly staggering to me that the president continues to have the audacity to say things like ‘hardworking families are reaping the rewards’ of his policies. Hardworking families are certainly reaping something from the president’s policies, but it isn’t rewards.”

Moreover, it is far from clear that the economic improvement will continue. While Federal Reserve officials are not expecting a recession, they still expect to have to raise interest rates by a further half a percentage point this year — monetary tightening that could burst some of the optimism inside the White House.

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