Last modified on Sun 14 Nov 2021 11.31 EST
Aides to Joe Biden took to the political talk shows on Sunday in a bid to talk up the US economic recovery despite confidence in the president continuing to plunge amid a crisis over inflation and supply chain problems.
In alarming news for the White House, only 41% of voters approved of Biden in a Washington Post/ABC survey published on Sunday, continuing a steady downward trend in the president’s ratings.
The new numbers, which come despite a victory lap over the passing of a $1.2tn infrastructure package and growing confidence over the prospects for a $1.75tn social spending bill, are a growing worry for Democrats with less than a year to the midterm elections.
Only 39% approved of Biden’s handling of the economy, their confidence shaken by inflation surging to 30-year highs and the supply chain crisis threatening the availability of food and other essentials with the holiday season approaching.
Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, and Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, tried to reassure voters that Biden’s policies had the US on the right track, amid warnings of inflation remaining high well into next year.
“We will still have an economic recovery that will be strong and support ongoing growth,” Yellen told CBS’s Face the Nation when asked about the likely dropping of paid family leave – forced by moderate Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin – from Biden’s Build Back Better domestic spending package.
“We’re supportive, President Biden and I, of paid leave, and it’s something that we will try to legislate in the future,” Yellen said. “But there’s money in this package that will make it easier for people to work and care for family members at the same time.”
Yellen blamed Covid-19 for the worst of the inflation and supply chain issues, and predicted that prices would likely “return to normal” in the second half of next year “if we’re successful with the pandemic”.
“The pandemic has been calling the shots for the economy and for inflation,” she said. “If we want to get inflation down, continuing to make progress against the pandemic is the most important thing we can do.
“We passed the American Rescue Plan and unemployment has declined from almost 15% to under 5% now. Americans feel confident about the job market. They’re seeing wage increases. It really reflects the support that we gave to Americans to keep up their spending and make it through the pandemic.”
Yellen’s upbeat position was mirrored by Deese. On NBC’s Meet the Press, he attempted to downplay attempts in the summer to paint rising inflation as a “temporary” blip.
“Because of the actions the president has taken, we’re now seeing an economic recovery that most people didn’t think was possible,” Deese said.
“If you look at the strong wage gains plus the direct support that we’ve provided to families, checks in pockets and the child tax credit, the disposable income for a typical family is up about 2% even after you take into account inflation.
“That doesn’t reduce the frustration any more when somebody’s going to the gas station and they see prices go up. But it does mean that we are well positioned to try to address these challenges going forward.”
On CNN’s State of the Union, Deese said: “We actually know what we need to do here. We need to make a fully paid-for investment that will unlock more opportunities to get more people working in the economy.”
Whether rosy messaging about inflation sways voters remains to be seen. Republicans such as the Florida senator Marco Rubio continue to bash Biden over the issue. Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, wrote in the Guardian this week that a lack of regulation has allowed corporate giants to continue raising prices while recording record profits.
“They have so much market power they can raise prices with impunity,” Reich wrote. “The underlying problem isn’t inflation per se, it’s lack of competition. Corporations are using the excuse of inflation to raise prices and make fatter profits.
“Price inflation is a symptom: the increasing consolidation of the economy in a relative handful of big corporations. This structural problem is amenable to only one thing: the aggressive use of antitrust law.”
Deese, on CNN, said Biden was open to exploring the issue.
“There’s a real concern of price gouging or market manipulation that could harm consumers,” he said. “So we’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a very close look at that.”