One of the strangest ticks of left-leaning punditry over the last year has been the contention that if Democrats in Congress didn't join together to pass some sort of climate and social spending bill—the various multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation packages that have gone under the label Build Back Better—then President Joe Biden would have presided over a failed presidency. The idea was that without this legislative package, Biden would have no accomplishments, no legacy, and nothing to show for his years in office with congressional majorities. Without the spending bill, Biden and the Democratic Party were doomed.
On the contrary, the evidence suggests that Biden is already presiding over a failed presidency—and passing the spending bill could further cement that failure.
A new poll from Echelon Insights puts Biden's predicament in rather stark relief. Over half of voters disapprove of the way Biden is handling the economy, foreign policy, and his job as president. Similarly, inflation is among the top concerns for voters right now, and 52 percent of registered voters believe Biden is making inflation worse. The question poll respondents were asked is pretty telling: "Do you think Joe Biden's policies are making the inflation situation…Worse? Better? Or not making a difference at all?"
The keyword in that query is policies. Voters blame Biden's policies for current economic turmoil.
And while there is probably, as always, some muddled thinking on the part of some voters about exactly what Biden has done to mismanage the economy, it is not wrong to blame Biden and congressional Democrats for stoking inflation. The first major legislative act that Biden and Democrats in Congress took this year was to pass a deficit-funded $2 trillion coronavirus relief and economic stimulus bill that was much larger than what most economists were calling for, one that some economists—even some long associated with the Democratic Party, like Larry Summers—said would make inflation worse.
And here we are, the better part of a year later. Inflation has indeed accelerated and is likely to continue to accelerate in the near future. Combined with supply chain problems, this is causing Americans economic pain and frustration in their daily lives, pain that is highly visible in the prices at gas stations and supermarkets in the form of obviously higher prices for certain staples. Indeed, inflation has risen so rapidly that it has effectively destroyed this year's wage gains for workers. They're earning more—and they're still worse off.
Americans, in other words, have quite clear, quite obvious economic problems. And they wish that Biden was focused on policies specifically aimed at addressing the immediate economic problems they face: Echelon's poll finds that 72 percent of voters—including, notably, 58 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters—want Biden to prioritize inflation and supply chain issues over social spending.
Instead, Biden and Democratic leadership in Congress have spent most of the year relentlessly focused on passing a massive spending bill that, among other things, will give the IRS more money to poke around in people's finances, and tax methane emissions in a way that is all but certain to increase home heating costs. But at least when it's all done, there will be a "Women of Trucking Advisory Board" as part of an initiative aimed at "promoting women in the trucking workforce." Women may well be woefully underrepresented in trucking, and I for one am ready for an all-woman remake of Sylvester Stallone's Over the Top, but a meaningful solution to the supply chain crunch this is not.
Biden, in other words, is focused on legislative initiatives that would attempt to remedy non-problems that people aren't particularly worried about while ignoring the very real problems that already exist—problems that his policies, supported by Democrats in Congress, have helped exacerbate. If anything, Biden's spending plans could make those problems worse still, by throwing more federal spending into an already inflationary economy, and by diverting resources toward Democratic social and climate priorities rather than more pressing issues.
This was always a problem with Biden's broader economic agenda: It was a grab-bag of expensive, preexisting Democratic hobbyhorses—more money for unions, for already-bloated health care programs, for climate policies of dubious effectiveness—instead of a set of tailored and focused responses to the problems Americans are actually facing right now. And rather than turn his attention to the most pressing issues, upon entering office Biden dug in on the checklist he came in with, acting as if he represented a commanding public majority that had endorsed trillions of dollars worth of social and economic change.
Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) said that he hoped the Senate would pass the spending bill by Christmas. It's clear what congressional Democrats are focused on, and it's not the same thing that voters are focused on. So in pushing to pass Build Back Better, Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress are doubling down on a strategy of ignoring voter problems in favor of mostly irrelevant party priorities.
This was always a recipe for a failed presidency, one incapable of adapting to the moment or addressing genuine voter needs—and so it is no surprise that as Biden has followed that recipe, his presidency has flailed and faltered. And as long as he sticks to this course, his failures are all but certain to continue.