Americans are worn out from the pandemic, worried about the economy and looking for leadership. This can be seen in casual conversations with friends and relatives, and in the jarring numbers of a Post-ABC poll released this week. The combination of voter exhaustion and heightened economic concern spells trouble for President Joe Biden, whose approval rating has fallen to 41%.
Pollsters found that 63% say that Biden has done “little or nothing” or not very much during his time in office. That includes one-third of Democrats who had been polled. The numbers are similar to those of former President Donald Trump during this point in his presidency.
And while Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and pending $2 trillion “reconciliation” social and climate change bill are largely popular, and there were 531,000 more jobs in October, it is the bad news that has Americans worried: October’s 6.2% rise in the inflation rate is the highest in 31 years, and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down. The official view is that choke points in the supply chain, as well as higher demand for fuel are causing temporary cost increases. But like the pandemic itself, the longer the rise in prices goes on, the darker the future seems.
Many who recall the country’s last large bout with inflation in the 1970s are particularly concerned. They learned through experience that inflation builds upon itself, as it strangles the economy. Initial attempts to stop inflation during the last surge — President Nixon’s mandatory wage and price controls and President Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN) initiative — were failures. Fiscal and monetary changes begun under President Carter and continued under President Reagan were successful but came at great cost in wage stagnation that has lingering effects to this day.
“Economic discontent destroys presidencies and brings governing political parties low,” writes Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. “Prices are rising due to forces beyond the president’s control. But his policy program has tended to make the problem worse, and voters will blame him regardless.”
Biden’s infrastructure and reconciliation bills address serious societal issues. But questions remain regarding funding for them. They will not pay for themselves, as some still contend, and taxing billionaires won’t be enough. Inevitably, some form of broader tax increase will be necessary. But with rising inflation and related economic concerns such increases will be very difficult to navigate. The administration has been wholly ineffective in confronting and addressing these issues. In part, that’s because they don’t have comprehensive answers. But in uncertain times, answers are what people turn to government for.
The time has come for the president’s team to lay out a clear plan for the economy and direct answers regarding funding for the trillions needed to pay for the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. President Biden promotes the value of plain talk and direct communication with the American people. It’s time for him to do exactly that.