White House pivots to closing argument on economy

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The White House on Wednesday said its closing argument ahead of the midterms will focus on the economy, telling reporters that President Biden and other administration officials will contrast the Democratic agenda with Republican proposals should they retake majorities in Congress.

After employing a somewhat scattershot approach that has touched on abortion, student loan forgiveness, threats to democracy and other topics, Biden and his team this week have tried to put the economy front and center with Election Day less than two weeks away.

On Wednesday, Biden gave a speech saying his administration would target “junk fees” to help bring down costs for consumers, including banking fees, hidden charges and added fees on cable bills, airline tickets and hotel bookings.

And in Syracuse, N.Y., on Thursday, the president will lay out point-by-point how Republican policies will harm the already struggling economy and talk about what he has deemed the “mega MAGA trickle-down economic plan.”

He will focus on five Republican policy issues, including extending the tax cuts made under former President Trump and repealing the Inflation Reduction Act , areas Biden will argue would add to the deficit and make inflation worse.

“We are entering a period here where the choice before the American people is incredibly stark, and the president’s going to continue to illustrate exactly the impact that the mega trickle-down agenda Republicans have put forward is going to have on families and he’s going to continue pressing that case for now, and for the weeks to come,” a senior administration official said.

The president will say that by eliminating his signature legislation, Republicans would raise prescription drug costs for seniors, raise health insurance premiums and increase energy bills by eliminating tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles. Such an elimination is unlikely to happen given Biden’s ability to veto legislation for the next two years, even if the GOP has majorities in Congress.

Biden also will push back against the lawsuits by Republicans against his student loan forgiveness plan after a federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the program should be temporarily halted.

White House officials on Wednesday also widely shared a New York Times report that cited economists who warned Republican proposals to cut taxes could actually worsen inflation, even as GOP lawmakers argue it’s Biden and Democrats who pumped too much money into the economy with their legislation.

“Independent economists are confirming the President’s warnings that congressional Republicans would worsen inflation by increasing the deficit and costs for families just so big money special interests can have another tax cut they don’t need,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement, which highlighted the Times’ reporting.

Biden has struggled for months with voters’ perceptions about his handling of the economy, as gas prices have ebbed and flowed all summer, grocery prices remain high and the cost of goods could remain a concern heading into the holiday season.

A CNBC poll released last week found 40 percent of voters approved of Biden’s handling of the economy, compared to 56 percent who disapproved. And an Associated Press poll released Oct. 12 found 46 percent of Americans called their personal financial situation poor, up 9 percentage points since March.

Asked if Biden has done enough to frame the midterms as a choice between the Democratic and Republican agendas, particularly when polls have shown voters disapprove of his handling of inflation and the economy, a senior White House official argued Biden has been making the case for weeks.

“He’s been laying out that there’s a clear choice here, and that the Republican congressional agenda will make inflation worse,” the official said on a call with reporters, adding that Biden and Cabinet officials would continue to take their economic message on the road in the less than two weeks before the midterms.

With the midterm elections inching closer, some strategists believe voters’ views on the economy may already be baked in and they are unlikely to be swayed by a final messaging push by the White House.

Biden will follow Thursday’s trip to Syracuse with a Friday visit to Philadelphia and a trip next Tuesday to Florida. He will return to Pennsylvania next weekend with former President Obama, and more travel is likely to be announced before Nov. 8.

“I’m a little skeptical that a closing argument can change the narrative of the race, the cake is likely baked at this point in terms of what people think,” said Tevi Troy, director of the Presidential Leadership Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But, the president going out there and rallying his supporters can help with turnout, which is essential for a midterm election.”

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