by E.J. Antoni
With only days left until the midterm elections, the advertising blitz from the political spin doctors has reached a fever pitch and the sound bites we’re hearing aren’t very sound, especially the ones from the White House on the economy. But heated rhetoric is hardly a replacement for facts and figures so, to borrow a phrase from the show Dragnet, let’s discuss “just the facts, ma’am.”
All politicians stretch the truth, but President Joe Biden’s claims are so demonstrably untrue that even his allies in the media are acknowledging it. The latest case was Biden’s claim that gasoline was over $5 a gallon when he took office. That was a bridge too far even for CNN, who called out the president.
Here are the facts: the national average for gasoline was under $2.40 a gallon when Biden took office, and more than doubled on his watch. Gasoline has repeatedly set record highs since Biden became president, and now the nation is at risk of a diesel shortage.
Biden’s blame game on oil and gas prices is equally untrue. It was not Russia that cancelled construction of American pipelines, or Saudi Arabia that raised taxes on American oil and gas producers. And it was not American oil companies that prevented drilling leases on federal lands.
Other claims by Biden and his associates are equally untrue, although not as blatant. Recently, he described the economy as “strong as hell,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Again, let’s look at the facts.
Job growth, consumer spending and business investment are trending down. Prices continue to rise, having already risen over 13% since Biden’s inauguration. At that time, the economy was growing at a $1.5 trillion annualized rate and annual inflation was 1.4%. In less than two years, Biden turned that into negative growth, with prices rising about as fast in a single month as they did in the entire year before he became president.
One area where Biden is at least telling a half truth is wages. Nominal wages (the size of your paycheck) have grown substantially. Unfortunately, real wages (what you can buy with that paycheck) have shrunk significantly. The average family has lost the equivalent of over $6,000 in annual income from declining real wages under Biden, while interest rate hikes are costing another $1,200 a year.
In brief, the average family is $7,200 poorer than when Biden took office, while the average 401(k) has lost $34,000 in 2022.
Yet another false assertion by the White House, is that their opponents will cut Social Security and Medicare. This is a more nuanced conversation, so let’s put down the rhetoric and look once more at the facts.
Social Security will be insolvent in a decade and $3 trillion in the red a decade after that. If the program is not reformed, it will collapse. While there is no official Republican plan yet, several circulated by Republicans involve real structural reforms, not “gutting” the program, as alleged.
For example, Rep. Sam Johnson has proposed that all future recipients (not those currently receiving benefits) would see lower payments and the bulk of the reductions would be for high-income earners. Far from “robbing” the poor, these reforms would help ensure the program’s survival at the expense of the wealthy. Without reforms, these programs will become insolvent and then can help no one.
In an age of heated rhetoric and sound bites, nuanced conversations have gone by the wayside, replaced by completely fallacious claims, shocking in their absurdity.
Politicians — from both sides —should be held accountable for the policies they implement and the lies they tell, because, on the national stage, lies can destroy lives and livelihoods.
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E.J. Antoni is a research fellow for regional economics at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis and a senior fellow at Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
Photo “Joe Biden” by The White House.