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Biden Says He Is ‘Turning Things Around’ on the Economy in Chicago Speech

President Biden began a concerted campaign on Wednesday to claim credit for an economic revival in America, powered by policies that he said represent a fundamental break from the Republican approach “that has failed America’s middle class for decades.”

Flanked by blue signs with the word “Bidenomics,” Mr. Biden delivered what aides called a cornerstone speech of his presidency. In it, he hailed the impact of his economic agenda as the 2024 campaign cycle heats up.

“The trickle-down approach failed the middle class,” he told an audience of about 200 supporters in Chicago, referring to economic policies favoring lower taxation for the wealthy that were popularized by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. “It failed America, it blew up the deficit, it increased inequity and it weakened our infrastructure. It stripped the dignity, pride and hope out of communities, one after another.”

By contrast, Mr. Biden asserted that his willingness to plunge the American government more directly into supporting key industries like silicon chips has revitalized manufacturing. He said investments in rebuilding crumbling infrastructure have begun to pave the way for growth. And he insisted that spending billions of dollars on programs like student debt relief will let more people find their way to a comfortable, middle-class life.

“When I ran, I came into office determined to change the economic direction of this country,” Mr. Biden said, later urging union leaders — and perhaps a reminder for himself — that “you’ve got to brag a little bit more about what you do.”

Mr. Biden’s speech echoed his efforts for more than a year to persuade voters that the economy is humming thanks to his policies — but in more forceful terms, and with little allusion to the rapid price increases that have frustrated consumers on his watch. Progressive groups and Democratic lawmakers have urged Mr. Biden to boast more about his economic record, and Mr. Biden’s aides have grown confident that conditions in the economy are favorable for voters to start giving the president the credit they say he is due.

With his speech, Mr. Biden is shaking off some of his caution in balancing attempts to celebrate the economy with the reality that millions of Americans are still struggling to recover from the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic — including job losses and, most importantly, the fastest burst of price increases in 40 years.

For the moment, Mr. Biden and his aides are trying to focus on what the administration has done, hoping to counter polls that show three-fourths of those surveyed believe the country under Mr. Biden’s leadership is on the wrong track. Only about a third say they approve of his handling of the economy.

But Mr. Biden also hinted that as he seeks a second term, he will need to convince voters that he has a plan to do even more.

“I’m not here to declare victory on the economy,” he said. “I’m here to say we have a plan that is turning things around incredibly quickly.” He added that “we have more work to do.”

Republicans have criticized Mr. Biden for high inflation and the cost of everyday necessities like health care, child care, groceries and gas.

In a statement after the president’s speech, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, referred to Mr. Biden’s remarks in Chicago as part of a “Bankrupting America Tour.”

“Americans are worse off under Biden,” she said. “Savings, real wages, and economic confidence are all down while prices continue to skyrocket, and hardworking Americans pay the price for failed ‘Bidenomics.’”

Biden administration officials acknowledge there is more work to do in bringing down inflation, but they note it has fallen for 11 straight months. The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that inflation is now lower in the United States than in any other wealthy Group of 7 nation.

Mr. Biden has signed trillions of dollars in economic legislation since taking office. That includes a $1.9 trillion package to hasten recovery from the pandemic recession, which economists say contributed at least to some degree to rising inflation, and bipartisan bills to invest in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing. On party lines, Democrats also passed an energy, climate and tax bill that has already led to new factory announcements for electric vehicles, batteries and more.

Administration officials this week released new analyses to underscore how those laws are beginning to boost the economy. The Treasury Department calculated that the historical pace of investment in manufacturing construction — led by semiconductor factories targeted by one of the bipartisan bills — has essentially doubled this year after adjusting for inflation. The Energy Department said low-emission energy jobs, like in offshore wind, rose by 4 percent last year.

In other areas, though, administration officials continue to make claims about Mr. Biden’s record that are not supported by evidence. A White House statement this week said that Mr. Biden “presided over $1.7 trillion in deficit reduction — a larger reduction than under any other president in American history.” That claim ignores the fact that much of that deficit reduction was the result of pandemic spending aid programs expiring and not being renewed.

It also does not mention that the deficit is rising again this year, even though Mr. Biden signed a deal this month with Republicans in Congress to reduce some federal spending. The deficit hit $1.16 trillion for the 2023 fiscal year in May, according to the Treasury Department, which is more than double its size at the same point in 2022.

The Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday that the deal between Mr. Biden and Republicans would slightly reduce the growth of the national debt over the coming decades, but that the debt was still poised to balloon as a share of the economy.

Still, the president’s advisers say they believe Americans will start shaking off the economic hangover from the pandemic and begin to feel the benefits of Mr. Biden’s policies in action.

Administration officials calculate that Mr. Biden’s spending bills and tax incentives have led to nearly $500 billion in new spending already on production of semiconductors, batteries, solar panel plants and other projects.

“These investments have critical spillovers into the private sector,” Jared Bernstein, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “They pull in private sector capital that needs a nudge.”

White House officials have spent the past week promoting “Bidenomics,” with a spokeswoman telling reporters that it is “the word of the day, word of the week, word of the month, word of the year here at the White House.”

On Wednesday, the president did not seem quite as eager to embrace the term, reminding reporters that he was not the one who coined it. In his speech, however, the president clarified his feelings: “I’m happy to call it Bidenomics.”


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