Welcome to the Journal’s pages, Mr. President. I trust your recent op-ed on your inflation plan is the first of many contributions to the paper. I admit to being envious: You were given 1,122 words to tell your story. We lesser lights get fewer than 820.
Let me begin with common ground. You started your piece by admitting that “Americans are anxious” about the economy. I agree. So does most everyone else. In May, the Gallup Economic Confidence Index hit its lowest mark since early 2009, near the Great Recession’s end.
You bragged about how good things are and claimed your “economic and vaccination plans” are the reason. Let me suggest a different way to think about it: You have a 35.5% approval rating on handling the economy in the RealClearPolitics average because (a) things aren’t all that good for many ordinary families; (b) voters know that jobs and growth are returning largely because pandemic shutdowns are ending, not because of your actions; and (c) it was your predecessor who ensured we had vaccines in record time.
It was wise to promise that “tackling inflation” is your top economic priority. But in your next paragraph you pass the buck, saying that the Federal Reserve has “a primary responsibility” to combat inflation. You may think this could deflect blame from you if things don’t improve before the midterms, but it really just sounds petty.
Other “practical steps” sounded similarly familiar, such as “clean energy tax credits and investments,” price controls on drugs, and “child and elder care” programs. Oh, that’s right, they were in your Build Back Better plan that Congress, controlled by Democrats, didn’t approve last year! Besides, spending more money won’t reduce inflation. Instead, all the dollars Washington would pay over a decade for your initiatives—realistic estimates for Build Back Better put it at $570 billion for green energy, $752 billion for child care and universal pre-K, and $8 billion for elder care—would likely boost inflation.
It was probably just bad timing, but your column appeared online on the same day as a lengthy Washington Post piece on how you, among other policy makers, “failed to recognize the mounting inflation crisis.” In February 2021, you argued for more spending as critics warned your $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would accelerate inflation. Even after your Treasury Secretary admitted in June that inflation could hit 3% in late 2021, you called it “temporary” in July and in August, your advisers dismissed inflation fears, saying “one month does not make a trend.” By December, inflation was 6.8%, a 40-year high. When a Democratic president loses the Washington Post, he’s in trouble. You are.
In your column, you said you reduced the deficit by $1.7 trillion this year. I’ve dealt with this claim before, and your op-ed requires me to do so again. The deficit did shrink, but not because of your actions. It was because Congress blocked your extraordinarily expensive Build Back Better plan and didn’t provide another massive Covid relief package as it did twice in 2020 because circumstances had changed. When you’ve made similar deficit reduction claims before, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called them “misplaced,” the CBO pointed out that your 2021 deficit was the second largest since 1945 in part because of the massive new spending you pushed through, and a CNN fact-checker said you’re “distorting reality.”
Nor are your suggestions to “reduce the deficit even more” attractive. You’d raise taxes on U.S. companies, eliminating their edge over foreign competitors, expand IRS audits, and raise taxes on billionaires. Yet even progressives admit that there are only 664 of them. That’s not nearly enough to pay for your spending spree.
I wasn’t keen about your closing twist. You urged “open and honest discussions” between Democrats and Republicans but only after warning about a supposed GOP plan to raise taxes and gut social programs. This is a proposal offered by a single senator that’s been politely ignored by all other Republicans. The Post has already awarded you three Pinocchio’s (“significant factual error”) for making this claim before.
It was smart to make your case in a newspaper whose editorial page is often critical of you. Your challenge in winning over voters, however, is not that you haven’t explained your views and policies, but that you need to demonstrate greater competence. What Democrats will discover this November is you can’t talk (or write) your way out of a mess, Mr. President. Ultimately a chief executive wins or loses public confidence because of his record. On inflation, yours is lousy. And your op-ed ain’t a plan either.