President Biden’s approval rating has plummeted, and Democrats wonder why. The United States is facing hardships, but hardships alone don’t make a president unpopular. Leaders who are honest about the problems we face and forthright about the solutions they offer tend to do well (think, say, of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan). Unfortunately, that is not the leadership Americans are getting from this president.
Instead, the Biden administration has tried to convince the public of things that are not just untrue but implausible. To note a few, Biden did not (and does not) have a “national strategy” to defeat COVID; our southern border is not “secure;” the Afghan withdrawal was not an “extraordinary success”; the current bout of inflation is neither “temporary” nor “a good thing”; and government spending never takes “the pressure off of inflation.”
Of course, politicians often overstate things and sometimes outright lie. Nothing new there. It’s the in-your-face nature of the administration’s falsehoods that is stunning.
For a recent example, take Biden’s efforts to promote his Build Back Better bill. The administration often claims that the legislation really “costs zero dollars” because it is “paid for.” Most Americans realize that paying for something doesn’t make it free. Otherwise, literally everything would be free. Seriously, people get this.
In fairness, Biden was attempting to state that BBB wouldn’t add to the deficit because taxing the rich would pay for it. But even that claim didn’t pass the smell test. Just about everybody outside of Washington, D.C., knows that government programs are never actually “paid for.” We are already borrowing from our great-grandkids just to cover our current profligate spending.
So, the Democrats resorted to various accounting tricks and budgetary chicanery to make it appear as though taxing “the rich” would pay the BBB bills. Few were fooled. Analyzing the bill using realistic assumptions, the Congressional Budget Office found that it would result in around $3 trillion in new deficit spending.
In yet another implausible claim, Biden said that BBB’s massive government spending would take “the pressure off of inflation.” No less an authority than former Clinton and Obama economist Larry Summers warned in February that profligate government spending would “set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.” The Democrats ignored him and passed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief boondoggle. In hindsight, Summers was prescient. In November, he recommended that the administration “not compound errors” it had already made “with far too much fiscal stimulus and overly easy monetary policy” and reject Build Back Better.
To counter these concerns, Biden claimed that BBB’s massive government spending would bring down inflation because government would pick up the tab for certain household expenses, such as child care. Of course, this ignores the impact that the bill would have on the supply of – and demand for – child care.
Child care providers are already in short supply. According to Sen. Richard Burr, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the bill would shrink the supply further “by killing off faith-based providers, small family child care homes, [and] kinship care,” while increasing the demand for child care with massive government subsidies. Not surprisingly, a study by the Progressive Peoples Policy Project, a think tank as left-leaning as its name implies, found that the bill would actually increase the cost of child care for middle-class families by about $13,000 per child annually.
The supply-and-demand dynamic and its impact on inflation seem to be mysteries to the administration – but not to most Americans. According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, the average American family will incur an additional $3,500 in expenses this year solely because of already-surging inflation. It’s the kind of thing people notice.
Of course, the administration made this implausible claim only because the bill needed West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s support to pass. Manchin, however, made it clear that, with inflation already at a 40-year high, he wouldn’t support legislation that added to the deficit or further swelled prices.
Like most Americans (including Larry Summers), Manchin refused to be fooled. He announced that he won’t support the bill – effectively killing it in its present shape. Rarely deterred by reality, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then announced that the Senate would move forward with a vote on the bill nonetheless.
Progressives have long lived in a bubble that cuts them off from the concerns of the “deplorables” in “fly-over America.” During the pandemic, the left hermetically sealed that bubble, shielding its leaders from the discontent that runs across political, geographic, racial, and ethnic lines. Otherwise, they would have foreseen the declining popularity of a president who repeatedly makes patently implausible claims and attempts to advance policies at odds with basic common sense.
The lesson here is not a new one. As someone said long ago: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
* * *
Andy Puzder is the former CEO of CKE Restaurants, chairman of the board of 2ndVote Advisers and a senior fellow at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.