Democrats’ Perception Problem#
Despite controlling the presidency and Congress, Democrats have failed to deliver for those who elected them. They have created inflation and can’t stop it.
This is the political perception of our moment. But, that perception is deeply flawed, and we must change it before the critical mid-term elections.
What have Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats delivered? A partial list:
- Got Donald Trump out of office, an achievement that cannot be overstated.
- Conducting an incredibly effective House investigation of the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
- Led a comprehensive effort to roll out COVID vaccines and boosters.
- Passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
- Passed $550 million in new investment in an infrastructure and jobs bill.
- Responded decisively and effectively to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- Passed the first federal gun control legislation since 1994.
- Had the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.
- Brokered an agreement with 130 countries to require corporations to pay at least 15% income tax wherever they operate.
- Had the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization.
- Made Kamala Harris vice president, the first woman, African American, and Asian American to hold that office.
- Named a diverse presidential cabinet, including Pete Buttigieg as the first openly-gay cabinet member.
- Made Ketanji Brown Jackson the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
- Filled 73 other federal judicial vacancies with a diverse set of appointees, with 46 more nominations pending in the Senate.
- Ended wasteful funding for a border wall with Mexico that would have been ineffective at stopping illegal immigration while causing environmental and diplomatic harm.
- Revoked the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, along with creating executive orders to combat climate change.
- Strengthened U.S. relationships in vital international organizations such as NATO, the G7, the Quad, and AUKUS.
- Passed a $280 billion CHIPS Plus bill to alleviate the microchip shortage and shore up U.S. competitiveness with China. (Added this point on August 2, 2022.)
- Killed Al Qaeda leader and 9/11 plotter Ayman Al Zawahiri. (Added this point on August 2, 2022.)
- Passed the PACT Act to help veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals while deployed abroad. (Added this point on August 3, 2022.
This Congress is likely to pass yet more legislation, potentially including:
- Vital revisions to the Electoral Count Act to protect elections.
- A Respect for Marriage Act protecting same-sex marriage.
- An Inflation Reduction Act authorizing $370 billion in spending on energy and climate change, $300 billion in deficit reduction, three years of Affordable Care Act subsidies, prescription drug reform, and tax reform.
Do the lists above contain everything Democratic constituencies want? Nope. Did many of those items involve compromises liberals didn’t like? Yep. But, with Democrats controlling the Senate by a single vote and the House by ~1% of votes, these are good outcomes. Democrats should crow more about them.
“But, Democrats and inflation!” you may cry. Inflation in the U.S. is indeed alarming. And, Democrats have contributed to the problem with too much recent fiscal stimulus. But, that is far from the full, bipartisan picture.
In December 2017, Trump and Congressional Republicans passed massive tax cuts favoring the wealthy and corporations without corresponding spending cuts. The cuts are estimated to add $2 trillion to $2.4 trillion to the national debt over ten years. Too much fiscal stimulus is a bipartisan problem.
Trump paired his tax cuts with protectionist trade policies that raises prices or keeps them high. He pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and imposed tariffs on Chinese imports. But, Biden hasn’t joined TPP’s successor or removed the tariffs on China. Protectionist trade policies are a bipartisan problem too.
Inflation is also being driven by supply chain issues due to COVID and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Republicans and Democrats didn’t create either of those problems. (Though, I would argue Biden has responded more effectively to COVID and Russian aggression than Trump did.)
Finally, the Federal Reserve waited too long to raise interest rates to combat inflation. That’s a bipartisan problem, too, given that both parties have nominated Fed governors in recent years. (Clearest example: Chair Jay Powell is a Republican appointed to the board by Obama, later made chair by Trump, and then renominated as chair by Biden.)
Massive tax cuts, massive stimulus, supply chain problems, and loose monetary policy. Many things have combined to create our inflationary environment, most of them being bipartisan in nature.
Changing Perception and Changing Policy
Democrats need to trumpet their achievements, to revel in them. They need to make it clear that Republicans bear their share of the blame for the current economy. And, they need to convince mid-term voters to give them larger Congressional majorities to more meaningfully tackle major problems. The most important of those problems is, yes, inflation.
The Inflation Reduction Act is a good start, but bolder action is needed. While free trade and immigration may look like political third rails, Democrats should dare to touch them.
A good start would be for the U.S. to join the successor to TPP, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or a new agreement much like it. More goods entering the U.S. at lower prices would reduce inflation while helping to balance against Chinese influence in APAC.
Congress also needs to take another stab at comprehensive immigration reform. Allowing appropriate numbers of new immigrants with needed skills would help bring high wage growth and low unemployment to healthier levels. It would increase entrepreneurship in our economy. It would also help deal with our below replacement level birth rate and aging population.
Biden and Democrats shouldn’t allow misperceptions about their achievements, the causes of inflation, or the best solutions for it to continue. Voters need to understand what Democrats have gotten done and what they want to do next.