Here’s what experts think Biden should say about the U.S. economy and inflation in the State of the Union
With inflation at a 40-year high and the COVID-19 pandemic lingering, President Joe Biden faces a tough balancing act in his first State of the Union address: How much does he tout progress, and how much does he express that he feels the American people’s pain?
Scheduled for Tuesday night, Biden’s high-stakes speech will focus heavily on the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine, as well as on his efforts to manage the pandemic and his selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson as a Supreme Court justice.
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On the economy, the speech is a chance for the president to showcase his administration’s accomplishments as well as highlight plans for what’s next, said Seth Hanlon of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
“The State of the Union is a unique opportunity to reflect on the enormous progress that has been made in just over a year,” Hanlon, a senior fellow at CAP who also served in the National Economic Council in the Obama White House, told MarketWatch. He added that Biden can tout record job creation, the unemployment rate’s drop from 6.4% when he was inaugurated to 4% now, and about three-quarters of the population being vaccinated against COVID.
What’s more, Hanlon said via email, Biden can lay out actions he’s taking to address inflation, like “unclogging and re-shoring supply chains.” The president “should be talking about his economic success — and his solutions to fight inflation — every single day.”
Read more of MarketWatch’s coverage of inflation.
From the archives (October 2021): Biden vows to prod companies if they don’t act on supply chains
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And yet Biden can’t be seen as taking a premature victory lap on the economy or COVID despite progress, according to Barbara Perry, an expert on the presidency at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
“He has to acknowledge that people are in pain and they’re fearful,” said Perry. “They have fears over COVID, obviously, and inflation, and not so much unemployment, but underemployment, and rising crime.”
Only after projecting such empathy, Perry said, should Biden tout progress on things like the vaccination rates and the bipartisan infrastructure
See: Biden touts bipartisan infrastructure bill’s $1 billion commitment to Great Lakes cleanup on Ohio trip
Biden’s speech comes as his approval rating is hovering just above 40% in an average of polls, and Republicans are savoring the prospect of retaking the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, and perhaps even the Senate. Inflation will continue to be a key line of attack against Biden and fellow Democrats in the midterms, the GOP has made clear.
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Also see: Democrats and Republicans set inflation, COVID mandates as 2022 election themes
“Joe Biden should use his speech to apologize to the American people for causing record inflation, skyrocketing crime, and an unmitigated crisis on the southern border,” Michael McAdams, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told MarketWatch.
McAdams’s organization works to get Republicans elected to the House.
Biden, to be sure, has work to do to convince Americans his administration is fighting inflation. In January, the U.S. inflation rate climbed to 7.5%, remaining at a 40-year high. As MarketWatch reported, the data suggested upward pressure on consumer prices isn’t likely to soon relent. Though the S&P 500 index
is up 14% over the past 12 months, it’s down 8.5% since the beginning of the year, as inflation weighs on investors and the Federal Reserve is expected to start interest-rate hikes.
In a Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month, inflation topped the list of respondents’ most urgent issues, followed by immigration and COVID.
Reminded recently by Lester Holt that he’d promised inflation would be transitory, Biden reproached the NBC News anchorman and then cited Nobel laureates and corporate leaders as having told him inflation “ought to be able to start to taper off as we go through this year.”
Read: Biden thinks inflation will cool later this year
Also see: Ahead of Biden’s State of the Union, here’s how he’s delivered on his priorities so far
Facing a tough midterm environment, Democrats are clearly hoping that Biden’s State of the Union address will help convince voters to send members of his party back to Washington after November.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told MarketWatch in a statement that the nationally televised speech gives the president an opportunity to highlight Democrats’ efforts to save the economy.
“Our agenda created a record-breaking amount of jobs and has America leading the world out of a global recession,” Maloney said. “I believe the president will make clear that Democrats are going to keep prioritizing our economy and delivering the results the American people care most about.”
Even if Biden drives home that message, however, he is fighting an uphill battle on behalf of his party, observed the University of Virginia’s Perry.
“The Republicans just by history have everything on their side,” she said. The speech “won’t stem the historical tide, which is, most presidents lose seats in the House and/or the Senate in the midterms.” Perry also noted that State of the Union speeches don’t typically give upward bumps to presidential approval ratings.
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With the U.S. and its allies heavily sanctioning Russia, Biden is certain to discuss at length his response to President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine and the consequences the West wants the leader to face. Foreign policy may even overshadow the domestic economic agenda, suggests one analyst.
“Biden will barely mention his moribund Build Back Better bill; like virtually every Western leader, he will wrap himself around the superstar hero, [Ukrainian President] Volodymyr Zelensky,” predicted Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, in a note on Monday.
Biden’s speech will be his first official State of the Union. In April, the president gave what’s known as an address to a joint session of Congress, which is similar in form.
Members of Congress are invited but can’t bring guests, and all attendees will be required to wear a KN95 or N95 mask.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will give the Republican Party response to Biden, GOP leaders have announced. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, will also give a response on behalf of the left-wing group Working Families Party. Tlaib, reports Politico, is expected to hammer Democrats who have stymied Biden’s social spending and climate change package — known as Build Back Better.
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