Opinion: Is Biden ‘trying to tackle inflation with feel good labels’?
Biden’s approval ratings show depressing similarities to Jimmy Carter’s. What will the Inflation Reduction Act do for voting this fall?
President Joe Biden and his administration have enjoyed recent successes, including passage of the questionably-named Inflation Reduction Act. But Biden’s approval ratings have remained low and he is now drawing comparisons to former President Jimmy Carter, who endured inflation and foreign crises. Since your columnists are old enough to actually remember the 39th president, we examine the similarities and the impact of congressional action on the elections.
Biden recently signed the IRA, which supporters claim will lower prescription drug costs, fight global warming, raise taxes on millionaires and reduce the federal deficit. Detractors claim otherwise, also noting it will hire tens of thousands of additional IRS agents. This legislation will be a key piece of Democratic strategy to prevail in the November midterm elections. Will it work?
Pignanelli: “I mean, isn’t it almost Orwellian — how can you call it Inflation Reduction Act?” — Jonathan Karl, ABC News
Prior presidential administrations, when faced with the horror of continual price increases of consumer goods, responded with curious strategies. By executive order in 1971, Richard Nixon imposed mandatory “Wage and Price Controls.” Gerald Ford tried the 1974 “Whip Inflation Now” effort using WIN buttons to encourage less driving, waste and energy use. In 1978, Jimmy Carter announced the “Anti-Inflation Program” seeking voluntary commitments to wage and price standards. None succeeded and all three presidents were out of office within a few years.
The IRA legislation is the most recent variation of this approach. The bill does have important objectives regarding pharmaceutical costs, energy exploration and environmental programs. However, serious arguments abound, casting doubt about a positive influence on inflation. Further, any meritorious effects of the bill will not be felt for years.
Americans have grown accustomed to complicated federal legislation with clever names designed to appeal to them. But they look elsewhere to determine their personal position. If inflation is still an economic concern by Labor Day, the IRA will be disregarded by Americans in how they vote.
The one activity that remains inexpensive is searching the internet, which would have revealed to legislative sponsors the danger of trying to tackle inflation with feel good labels.
Webb: The actual impact of the legislation won’t be felt for many months or years, so Democrats will be running on wishful thinking for the next three months. More important will be how voters are feeling about inflation, crime, the immigration crisis, scary world affairs (Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan), energy shortages and the general economy. And, of course, Trump looms large, unfortunately.
Most Americans, myself included, can find a number of things to like in the legislation. I want cleaner air, fewer carbon emissions and less expensive prescription drugs. But it comes at the cost of additional massive federal spending. And I think it’s fantasy to believe that more IRS agents and a tax on wealthy people will pay for the many billions of dollars that will help subsidize clean energy. Count on it: Ten years from now the debt will be even more out of control and we’ll still be facing massive problems.
This spending is on top of the trillions of dollars thrown at a potpourri of programs in the last few years, which contributed to the inflation we’re suffering now. And a lot of that money hasn’t even been spent.
I’ve watched politics for 50 years and I have little faith that immense new spending on vast new federal programs will solve America’s problems. I’d rather rely on private enterprise, free markets and American ingenuity and innovation.
Biden is facing difficult issues that the country has not confronted in over 40 years including high inflation and perceived weakness in foreign affairs. Are the comparisons to the Carter presidency fair?
Pignanelli: Biden and Carter share many personal characteristics including decency, commitment to family, religious devotion, general compassion and difficulty in communicating confidence to Americans. Also, both presidents enjoyed successful legislative records (Carter: deregulation of airlines and trucking) that did not parlay into high approval ratings. There are differences. Carter was an outsider to Washington, D.C., and Biden is the consummate insider. But the Biden administration is well advised to study this predecessor to avoid the pitfalls that can plague even the most honorable of leaders.
Webb: The Biden economy isn’t quite as bad as Carter’s raging stagflation (high inflation plus high unemployment and a stagnant economy). Carter lost his second term bid when Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” The answer was clearly no.
Carter also suffered a disastrous foreign policy debacle when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and took 66 Americans hostage for 444 days. Biden’s inept and bloody retreat from Afghanistan wasn’t quite as bad.
How will the new legislation, and Biden’s perception, impact the midterm elections in Utah?
Pignanelli: GOP candidates will highlight that the IRA provides an additional $78 billion to the IRS. This tactic, combined with Biden’s unpopularity, will motivate conservative voters.
Webb: Every Utah member of Congress voted against the Inflation Reduction Act and made persuasive arguments against it. Utah has suffered some of the highest gas prices and inflation in the nation. Biden has never been popular here and control of Congress is on the line. That’s why I expect GOP incumbents to win.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: email@example.com.