Republicans’ problem in attacking Biden: They helped pass his economic bills
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and REID J. EPSTEIN
President Joe Biden isn’t the only one doing a full summer embrace of federal spending on infrastructure and semiconductor manufacturing — so are some of the Republicans aiming to remove him from office next year.
The White House has labeled the president’s new economic campaign Bidenomics, a portmanteau that until now has been a pejorative used by Republicans and conservative news outlets primarily to underscore inflation.
But in a speech earlier this week in Chicago about the economy, Biden latched on, with a renewed focus on the two most significant bipartisan legislative accomplishments of his term, the infrastructure bill and the CHIPS and Science Act. He hopes these measures will help brand him as the cross-aisle deal maker he sold to voters in 2020, appeal to political moderates who formed a core of his winning electoral coalition and impress upon tuned-out voters what he has done in office.
One significant benefit for Biden: Republicans helped pass those bills.
While GOP presidential candidates and the Republican National Committee continue to paint Biden’s economic stewardship as a rolling disaster, Republican senators who helped shape the legislation say they anticipated that those accomplishments would accrue to Biden’s political advantage — as well as to their own.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who helped write the enormous bill aimed at revitalizing the domestic semiconductor industry, said the work on a law that he called “off-the-charts popular” had started with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during President Donald Trump’s administration.
“The Biden administration deserves credit for advancing the proposal and, irrespective of the timing of its origin, helping it become law,” Young said.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., more grudgingly acknowledged the president’s role in securing a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that had eluded the past two administrations.
“When senators from different parties come together to work on solutions to our nation’s problems and then the president jumps in front of the parade, it does not mean he’s the grand marshal,” Cassidy said.
Biden’s infrastructure bill won votes from 19 Republican senators and 13 Republican House members. Sixteen Senate Republicans and 24 Republicans in the House voted for the semiconductor legislation.
It will be difficult for Republicans to land criticism when they themselves are taking credit for the same achievements. The White House on Wednesday highlighted praise for the Biden administration’s broadband spending from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Gus Bilirakis of Florida, Republicans who both voted against the infrastructure legislation that funded it, along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
But perhaps no Republican acclaim for the infrastructure legislation brought Biden more joy than a tweet from Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama that said it was “great to see Alabama receive crucial funds.”
“To no one’s surprise, it’s bringing along some converts,” Biden said Wednesday of his bipartisan legislation. “There’s a guy named Tuberville from Alabama, a senator from Alabama, who announced that he strongly opposed the legislation. Now he’s hailing its passage.” Biden then dryly drew the sign of the cross on his chest.
Steven Stafford, a spokesperson for Tuberville, said Biden and his allies had “twisted” the senator’s words. “Now that the bill is law of the land, the people of Alabama deserve their fair share,” he said.
And even as Biden on Monday played up the $42 billion of broadband spending in the infrastructure law, another Republican senator who did vote for it, Susan Collins of Maine, was trumpeting the $272 million from it that is going to her state.
Of course, the White House’s celebration of Republican plaudits for legislation Biden signed will matter little unless the president can persuade voters that these achievements are improving their material well-being.
Biden’s defenders have long maintained that the economic policies he is highlighting in the Bidenomics rebrand are very popular with voters. The problem, these allies say, is that few people connect them with Biden.
And Wednesday’s speech came at a moment when Biden’s approval ratings on the economy are in dangerous territory.
An Associated Press/NORC poll released Wednesday found that just 34% of adults approved of Biden’s handling of the economy. Among Democrats, only 60% — and a mere 47% of those 45 years old or younger — approved of his economic stewardship.
The millstone is inflation, which has tempered sharply from its peak last year but remains above the norm. Whether inflation is at 9% or 4%, prices remain high, which may be why the president speaks less about the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, which passed early in his tenure and has been blamed even by the Federal Reserve for part of the surge of inflation. It is also why Republicans continue to mock what they call the inaptly named Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in 2022 on strictly Democratic votes.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., made clear that his party intended to lump all of the achievements being promoted by Biden into the inflationary maw, including the infrastructure and semiconductor legislation.
“Both of those bills caused inflation, which is Biden’s biggest albatross in the upcoming election,” he said, “so I don’t think they did him any favors,” referring to Republicans who helped pass the measures.
In his speech on Wednesday, Biden said that the pandemic relief plan had driven unemployment down from above 6% to below 4%. He suggested that his economic leadership would achieve an even broader goal he placed at the center of his 2020 campaign: restoring the soul of America.
“It’s going to help lessen the division in this country by bringing us back together,” Biden said. “It makes it awful hard to demagogue something when it’s working.”