Biden’s biggest challenges in 2022? Convincing Americans ‘the United States is on the right track,’ winning the economy battle, analysts say.
Persistent inflation, a tough midterm-election outlook for Democrats and an ongoing grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic are shaping up to be some of President Joe Biden’s biggest challenges as he prepares to enter the second year of his presidency.
At the same time those and other factors are contributing to what at least one analyst says is Biden’s toughest task in the months ahead: persuading his fellow citizens that the U.S. is moving in the right direction.
“The biggest challenge for Biden is to convince the American people that the United States is on the right track,” said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst at Raymond James. Inflation, COVID, geopolitical risk and fractured American politics all contribute to gloom among Americans — and heighten chances that voters will move toward the president’s opponents, says Mills.
Polls compiled by RealClearPolitics underscore the heavy lift Biden will face, with those saying they believe the U.S. is on the “wrong track” overwhelmingly outnumbering respondents who say the U.S. is going in the right direction.
With Democrats fearing losses in November’s midterm elections, inflation and other economic issues are top-of-mind for voters by a large margin, a recent Wall Street Journal poll found. Worryingly for Biden and congressional Democrats, Americans see the GOP as better able to handle them, according to the survey. Republicans blasted the White House after last week’s consumer-price-index report showed the cost of living climbing again in November, driving the U.S. inflation rate to a nearly 40-year high.
Now see: U.S. inflation rate swells to 39-year high of 6.8% as Americans pay higher prices for almost everything
Biden’s and Democrats’ response? Doubling down on their agenda, namely the still-under-debate Build Back Better social-policy and climate plan.
“Today’s numbers reflect the pressures that economies around the world are facing as we emerge from a global pandemic — prices are rising,” Biden said in a statement. “But developments in the weeks after these data were collected last month show that price and cost increases are slowing, although not as quickly as we’d like.”
“The challenge of prices,” Biden said Friday, “underscores the importance that Congress move without delay to pass my Build Back Better plan, which lowers how much families pay for healthcare, prescription drugs
child care and more.”
Also read: Biden redoubles Build Back Better push as Republicans say inflation rate demonstrates Democrats’ ‘incompetence’
Biden has hit the road to sell the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure
law, a key accomplishment, and regularly talks up the roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better proposal, which, should it pass, would pump billions of dollars into renewable energy, establish universal pre-K — and almost certainly figure prominently into Democrats’ midterm messaging.
Now see: Biden signs bipartisan infrastructure bill into law, authorizing big spending on roads, broadband, EV chargers and more
Yet even as Biden and lawmakers tout what they say will be the inflation-fighting aspects of their agenda, others argue it’s already too late to help the president’s party next November.
“Typically, when we have a recession or high inflation, the public doesn’t realize it ends until about two years after it actually ends,” says Brian Riedl, an economic-policy expert at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute and a former top aide to Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican who is not seeking re-election in 2022.
“The real fight” for the president, says Riedl, is going to be “winning the battle on the economy — and that is, taming inflation, fixing supply chains and getting people back to work.”
Biden is looking past Friday’s dismal inflation report, saying that inflation is at “the peak of the crisis.” And his aides, like White House press secretary Jen Psaki, are emphasizing that prices for some items — such as gasoline
— have fallen since the November CPI data were collected. Pivoting to the president’s Build Back Better plan, Psaki said the legislation would “start cutting costs early next year,” including for child care.
Opinion: Inflation is running rampant in the U.S. — here’s where it is, and isn’t
Despite Biden’s recently underwater approval ratings, Build Back Better and the infrastructure law poll well among Americans, suggesting the president can use both to his and his party’s advantage in 2022.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, is aiming to pass Build Back Better before Christmas, but that goal may prove elusive amid resistance to some elements of the plan from Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat.
Put another way, Biden’s top task next year may be as salesman-in-chief. Mills says that Biden “needs to do a better job selling his agenda” if he wants to help Democrats stave off the losses that history indicates they will incur in the midterms. Republicans need to flip only five Democratic seats to take the House majority — a feat that could easily prove doable thanks to redistricting — and the GOP would have to net just one seat to wrest back the Senate.
While Democrats’ losing control of Congress isn’t the midterm-elections outcome Biden wants, the markets
would be just fine with a return to divided government, Mills says.
“After a very active couple of years legislatively, generally speaking, what I would expect the market to want is not much,” he says. “The market would be OK with gridlock, so long as there’s not a crisis that demands action.”