By Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt
CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden worked to lift Americans’ dour mood about the economy with what his aides billed as a major speech on Wednesday, an effort to shore up a top political weakness as he seeks re-election.
Biden, whose two-year term as president has witnessed a sharp rebound from the COVID-19 induced recession, has nonetheless watched his public approval ratings sag under the weight of voter anxieties about the direction of the economy.
Job creation and low unemployment are the positives while elevated inflation and the knock-on effects of spiking interest rates over the past year in areas such as the housing market have stoked fears of recession.
Speaking in Chicago, the U.S. president re-introduced his vision of middle-class American prosperity. That includes taxing the wealthy to invest in areas critical to national security, including semiconductors; educating workers; and improving economic competition, Biden said.
“This vision is a fundamental break with an economic theory that has failed America’s middle class for decades now,” Biden said.
More than half of Americans disapprove of how Biden is handing his job, while just 35% of respondents approved of his stewardship of the economy, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this month. Voters rate the economy as their top issue.
The U.S. economy grew at a 1.3% annualized rate in the first quarter and unemployment was at 3.7% in May, when inflation rose at a 4% year-over-year rate.
White House aides see those inflation figures as elevated but headed in the right direction under Biden-backed policies designed to reduce deficit spending and lower costs on a range of products from insulin to concert tickets.
Still, Federal Reserve officials have said they think they have “a long way to go” to get inflation back down to healthy levels and may need to raise borrowing costs more, which could cause a recession.
Aides are using the term “Bidenomics” to capture the Democratic president’s approach, drawing a contrast with the tax-cutting ethos once called “Reaganomics” for its affiliation with Republican former President Ronald Reagan, who left office in 1989.
“I’m not here to declare victory on the economy. I’m here to say we have a plan that’s turning things around incredibly quickly. We have more work to do.” He said the next phase would include making the federal tax system fair by eliminating loopholes for the wealthy.
Whether his message will break through is an open question. The summertime speech came ahead of the July Fourth holiday, 16 months before voters head to the polls and as Republicans sort through a large field of possible candidates led by former President Donald Trump.
Biden’s last major address to the nation, a prime-time June 2 Oval Office speech trumpeting a bipartisan deal to end the debt limit crisis, drew an audience of just 6.2 million people and was only picked up by two of the major U.S. broadcast networks, according to research firm Nielsen.
On Wednesday, Biden’s afternoon speech was aired on the major cable news networks.
Trump has made inflation a key element of his attacks on Biden in the early months of the race.
“Americans are worse off under Biden,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a statement. “Prices continue to skyrocket, and hardworking Americans pay the price for failed ‘Bidenomics.’”
Biden, 80, is also expected to attend a fundraising event while he is in the Chicago area ahead of a federal deadline for fundraising records. He is not expected to face a serious fight for his party’s nomination.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Jamie Freed and Alistair Bell)
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