WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has vowed to fix America’s infrastructure as president. He vowed to take on China and increase American manufacturing. He said he would reduce the budget deficit and make the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
But two years into his presidency, Joe Biden is making good on those promises. He jokes that he’s created an “infrastructure decade” after Trump just managed a near-parody of “infrastructure weeks.” His legislative victories are not winning votes from Trump loyalists or boosting his overall approval ratings. But they reflect the core of how government interacts with the economy at a time when many Americans fear a recession and a broader national decline.
Comprehensive tax cuts have passed. There is no longer an unfettered faith in free trade with non-democracies. Biden has given the White House more than $1.7 trillion in the belief that a mix of government aid, centralized policy and bureaucratic expertise can deliver long-term growth that lifts the middle class. This reverses the previous administration’s view that cutting regulations and taxes spurred business investment that flowed to workers.
With the new laws in place, Biden is upping the ante on what federal bureaucracy can successfully implement and deliver on his promises, including after he leaves office.
It’s a tricky point because Trump himself has learned that global crises like the pandemic can quickly erode the foundations of an economic agenda, forcing businesses and voters to shift priorities. There are few guarantees that the economy will behave the way government projections expect in 10 years, while Biden’s policies are likely to be challenged by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
Biden and his team say Americans are already seeing positives with announcements of new computer chip factories and about 6,000 infrastructure projects.
“There is an industrial strategy that actually uses public investment to generate more private capital and innovation in the historical tradition of everyone from Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy,” said Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. “The results speak for themselves.”
Trump’s supporters see little overlap with Biden, though funding for infrastructure, computer chip manufacturing and scientific research has flowed across bipartisan lines.
“The agenda of the Biden administration is 180 degrees different,” said James Carter, policy director of the America First Policy Institute. “More regulation, higher taxes, no border controls and the fight against fossil fuels. Two different administrations with two different approaches. One is the free market, the other is big government.”
Current and former presidents seem almost connected in the public arena. The day before Biden signed the $280 billion Semiconductor and Research Act into law in August, FBI agents raided Trump’s home to obtain classified documents, overshadowing the White House event. Similarly, Biden cast Trump as a threat to democracy ahead of November’s midterm elections, while Republicans campaigned by bashing the president for troubling inflation.
Biden aides are quick to say the president is keeping his campaign promises, not Trump’s. But one of Biden’s first moves as president in 2021 was to provide $1,400 in direct payments to Americans as part of his coronavirus relief package. Along with $600 in payments in the pre-Biden aid package, the amount matched the $2,000 that Trump requested in the twilight of his presidency, though he failed to get it through Congress.
“I’d like to avoid the premise that Joe Biden somehow took Donald Trump’s ideas and made them law,” Dees said. “What President Biden has done is taken the campaign agenda that he campaigned on and actually executed it.”
For all that, the Americans give Biden low marks on the economy. Inflation has fallen from a 40-year peak this summer, but consumer prices are still 7.1% higher than a year ago. The Federal Reserve is raising its benchmark interest rate to tame inflation, suggesting its own projections will lead to higher unemployment next year.
Three in four Americans describe the economy as poor, and nearly the same percentage say the U.S. is on the wrong track, according to a new poll by The Associated Press and NORC Public Affairs Research Center.
Biden asks for patience.
“I know it’s been a tough few years for hard-working Americans and for small businesses,” Biden said Tuesday in a speech about inflation. “But there are bright spots across America where we’re starting to see the impact of our economic strategy, and we’re just getting started.”
Trump’s supporters have blamed Biden’s separate $1.9 trillion in coronavirus aid for fueling inflation, even though it contained roughly $400 billion in direct payments that the former president said Americans should receive. They argue that the US economy would be stronger if Biden took steps such as allowing all businesses to fully spend their investments in new equipment instead of providing targeted support to the technology and clean energy sectors.
But even excluding the recession caused by the pandemic, Trump’s economic record was far from sterling, as promised growth never materialized. Manufacturers began cutting jobs in 2019 before the coronavirus spread, instead of the steady recovery Trump promised. Annual budget deficits worsened under Trump, but they improved under Biden as pandemic aid was cut.
Biden tells Americans that his policies will strengthen the US economy over the next decade. Its $52 billion in computer chip production has led to a series of groundbreakings at factories in Arizona, Idaho, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas that will take years to complete. The idea is that government aid reduces risk and makes it easier for these companies to invest in areas where global demand exceeds available supply.
Chris Miller, a professor at Tufts University and author of “The Chip War,” says incentives are only part of the cost of building factories. Miller said the benefits of the investment would flow to companies that sell raw materials. for chip makers, but also potentially for car, electronics and home appliance makers that increasingly rely on chips.
“The chip funding makes it clear that there will be significantly more chip construction and manufacturing in the US,” he said, “so for suppliers to the chip industry, they’re more certain that demand for their products will be greater than it would otherwise be. encouraged them to invest as well.”
Despite all the economic woes, manufacturing has improved under Biden, with factory employment at 12.9 million jobs, the most since December 2008. As Biden boosted domestic investment, he also expanded the Trump administration’s efforts to compete with China and maintained his predecessor’s tariffs.
The Biden administration has restricted exports of advanced computer chips and semiconductor equipment, citing national security concerns that China is using the technology for surveillance and hypersonic missiles. It has also established deeper partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea and several European countries to counter China’s growing influence.
Kurt Campbell, Biden’s “Asia czar” at the White House National Security Council, said that many of the Trump State Department’s China initiatives “have followed” during the Biden presidency, telling a panel in April that “in many ways. it is the highest tribute” to the previous administration.
But Steve Yates, a senior fellow at the America First Policy Institute and former president of Radio Free Asia, said Biden has not shown the same emphasis on China as Trump.
Yates cited that Biden’s national security strategy shows that the United States has common interests with China in the fight against climate change. He said China would use that priority to their advantage because Biden’s willingness to cooperate on climate change would prevent him from antagonizing Beijing, as Trump has done.
“We just have a weak hand,” Yates said.