High prices and economic turmoil resurface as a threat to Democrats
With Republicans re-energized in their efforts to tie President Biden to rising prices, falling markets and growing recession fears, Biden began to use presidential events to aggressively confront his Republican critics over their own economic policies, in addition to touting the positives of its save and highlighting new manufacturing jobs across the country.
“My friends, when it comes to the next Congress, it’s not a referendum; it’s a choice,” he said Friday during a speech at a Volvo plant in western Maryland. “It’s a choice between two very different ways of looking at the economy.
Biden spoke just hours after the Labor Department said the economy added 263,000 jobs in September, pushing the jobless rate to 3.5% and suggesting the labor market is cooling but still strong. .
Biden called Republican officials by name and accused them of rooting against prosperity. “A lot of my Republican friends basically argue that good news for the economy is bad news for America,” he said.
The slowdown in the labor market could be just the beginning
But even as the labor market continues to function, other parts of the economy have been an intractable concern for much of Biden’s presidency, with chronically high inflation, supply chain issues, interest rates rising interest rates and a slowing housing market. As Biden spoke on Friday, the stock market fell precipitously on fears the tight labor market would do little to bring down inflation.
The volatility has rekindled fears among Democrats that the November election could be an expression of economic angst, even after a Supreme Court ruling that struck down abortion rights and a series of investigations into the former President Donald Trump made headlines this summer.
As those issues have faded from the headlines somewhat, Republicans have sought to highlight economic headwinds, arguing that Biden’s policies are to blame for rising prices and slowing growth. “Don’t be fooled by Biden’s words today,” tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “The reality of Biden’s economics is that inflation is crushing Americans, real wages are falling, and gas prices are rising again.”
Donald Schneider, who served as a top House Republican aide on the Ways and Means Committee, said the rising cost of filling the reservoir puts the Biden administration’s energy policy under scrutiny “at worst possible time” for Democrats.
“People are really dissatisfied with the economy and voters place a lot of weight on inflation,” Schneider said. “This is the issue that voters are most unhappy with Biden about.”
The rise in gasoline prices has accelerated after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a phenomenon Biden was quick to call “Putin’s price hike,” but they fell for nearly 100 straight days over the summer, giving to the Democrats the hope that inflation would subside.
But the trend has reversed in the past two weeks as the cost of fuel has started to rise again.
In this context, the decision taken this week by a coalition of oil producing countries led by Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut production by 2 million barrels per day was a particularly heavy blow. It has raised concerns among Biden aides that global energy costs will rise further, hitting Americans’ wallets just as they prepare to vote in the midterm elections. The sting was more acute because Biden visited Saudi Arabia in July, despite criticism over his human rights record, in a bid to improve US-Saudi relations.
Biden, whose administration is now urgently looking for ways to mitigate the impact of the production cut, said he was disappointed with the decision.
“I was able to get the gas well over a dollar sixty, but it’s going up because of what the Russians and the Saudis just did,” Biden said on Friday, before hinting that he was preparing a response. “I’m not done with that yet.”
Analysis: The Democrats’ gas price problem
The president did not announce any new measures to cut gas prices in his speech, instead using his remarks to warn that Republicans attacking him over inflation would worsen the economy if they were in office.
He accused Republicans of backing “trickle down” policies, saying they would reverse job gains made under his presidency, offer tax breaks to the wealthy and target Social Security and Medicare for cuts. He also attacked GOP lawmakers who called his infrastructure legislation “socialism” and then later demanded funds from the bipartisan package for their districts.
“I had no idea there were so many socialist Republicans,” Biden joked Friday, after calling lawmakers by name and accusing them of flip-flopping on the infrastructure bill. “I was surprised to see so many socialists in the Republican caucus.”
The president’s newly aggressive tone comes as some Democrats have sounded the alarm over the upcoming midterm races, calling on Biden to take his economic message to the road. Biden has increased his travel this week in an attempt to show the economic impact of the legislation he has signed, and he is expected to maintain a busy travel schedule in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 midterms.
On Thursday, Biden visited IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, to tout a $20 billion investment the company had announced. Last month, he traveled to New Albany, Ohio, to celebrate a new $20 billion Intel project that will include two giant semiconductor factories. In each instance, Biden touted passing his infrastructure and computer chip bills, and Democratic lawmakers joined Biden at every stop.
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) spoke ahead of Biden’s appearance in Hagerstown on Friday, urging voters to be patient as much of the impact of the president’s legislative record may not be felt immediately. .
“We don’t see the roads yet, we don’t see the broadband, we don’t see the lowering of health care costs, but it’s all coming,” he said. “Everything happens next year, three years, five years.”
But the crucial legislative elections take place next month. That leaves Democrats with the challenge of convincing voters that GOP victories would hurt the economy, even as polls have shown Republicans a consistent advantage on economic issues.
Americans have been worried about inflation since the spring, according to a monthly Gallup survey. In September, 17% named inflation, or the high cost of living, as the country’s biggest problem, second only to poor government leadership at 22%. This figure has been largely constant since April.
In contrast, abortion issues were cited by 4% of Americans as the nation’s top problem, down from a July high of 8%.
The potential resonance of the inflation issue, despite the strength of other parts of the economy, has not been lost on GOP candidates. Republicans have spent more than $120 million on inflation-linked ads this year, more than triple the figure of Democrats, according to data from AdImpact, which tracks ads across a wide range of races.
These messages could find a receptive audience among voters bearing the brunt of the stubbornly high costs.
Joyce Fox, 43, was watching a Fox News segment on the Saudi-Russian decision to cut oil production when a reporter approached her outside the motel in Westminster, California, where she is staying until that she can have her own place. Sitting in the shade of a picnic table, Fox said she could barely afford to cross the country from Ohio last month.
In Ohio, she said, she paid about $3.50 a gallon. Then she stopped to fill up in Nevada, where average gasoline prices are above $5.50 a gallon, second only to California.
“I realized I had $50 left in my pocket,” said Fox, who was staying at the hotel with her two children. “How am I going to get home? »
She called her father, who sent her money through Zelle. And she said she started crying as she completed the drive to Southern California – where she grew up – when she learned she had been approved for increased ministry benefits. of Veterans Affairs.
But Fox feared gas prices could climb even higher, and she blames the Biden administration’s energy policy. Rising costs at the pump are one of the many reasons the staunch conservative says she will vote Republican this fall.
Even as they tout the passage of Democratic or bipartisan bills aimed at helping everyday Americans — from the covid relief package to the infrastructure bill to a measure targeting drug costs — Democrats are striving also to communicate that they too understand the problems that inflation poses for consumers.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, for example, said on Friday he would take swift action to deal with the crisis in his state, where average fuel costs have soared in recent days to around $6.39 a gallon. .
“Gas prices are too high,” he said. wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “23 million Californians will receive up to $1,000 starting TOMORROW. This will be the largest state tax refund in the country.
Rising costs have prompted some Democrats to break with the president on economic policy. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) distanced himself from national Democrats during a debate against Republican challenger Blake Masters on Thursday, saying he told the president “he was wrong” on the oil and gas policy.
In that debate, Masters dodged a question about election denial by returning to economics.
“Is Joe Biden the legitimately elected President of the United States? asked the moderator.
“Joe Biden is absolutely the president,” replied Masters, who baselessly denied the election results. “I mean, my God, have you seen the gas prices lately? »
Greg Morton and Scott Clement contributed to this report.