Biden as Progressive Reformer Aims to Outshine Obama

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Department of Labor’s March jobs report from the State Dining Room at the White House, April 2, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

I’ve written before about how the behavior of the Biden administration bears an unsurprising familiarity to certain aspects of the Obama administration. In that case, I was comparing the early term passage of a massive, crisis-justified spending bill (with dubious connection to the crisis at hand), largely on party lines in 2009 vs. in 2021, in which many of the same players even had a role (House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden then as vice president, etc). The main difference was simply its size, as the American Rescue Act of 2021 was more than twice as large as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The repetition is unsurprising for a few reasons. Again, many of the players remain the same, both inside and outside the administration; Biden is staffing his White House with many Obama administration retreads (including himself), and Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, etc. are still around. But also, Biden’s own ideology, habits, preferences, et al. have mostly already been formed as a kind of muscle memory from his decades in and around public life. There is a difference in the extent that he has moved left as a presidential candidate and as president, but this, too, is part of his well-trained reflex to put himself in the middle of wherever the party happens to be; if the party moves left, he’ll move left with it.

At any rate, this week has provided more Obama-Biden flashbacks for me. Biden is apparently selling his infrastructure bill on the notion that it will create 19 million jobs. There’s some sleight-of-hand going on here, as Robert VerBruggen noted here. He cites Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker, who, in looking at the Moody’s report on which the number is based, details how the baseline jobs-growth figure over the next ten years is around 15.65 million new jobs. That baseline assumes that the American Rescue Act was not passed, and that Biden’s infrastructure bill won’t be either. The next scenario up assumes that the American Rescue Act has been passed (which it has). As we inhabit that reality currently, the assumption is that 16.3 million new jobs would be created. Whereas if we passed the Biden infrastructure plan, “almost 2.7 million additional jobs would be created over 10 years,” Kessler explains (even if you buy the report’s assumptions, that is). He continues:

That sounds a lot smaller than 19 million, which is why administration officials presumably prefer to mention the larger number. But then they have sometimes bungled the talking points to make it seem as if all 19 million jobs would stem from the infrastructure plan.

All in all, it’s some typical government number-fudging. We’ll undoubtedly see it again. Indeed, we have seen something like it before. In the Obama years, after the 2009 stimulus passed, Obama administration officials, including Obama and Biden themselves, liked to say that it “created or saved” x number of jobs. At the time, Politifact, another fact-checking outfit, rated such claims as “barely true”; in 2011, curiously, the rating was retroactively changed to “mostly false.” The problems with such fact-checkers are well-known, so it’s quite something when, across the years, two of the most notable ones call shenanigans on a similar claim from two different administrations. Alas, I don’t think this means the Biden administration will stop playing similar games in the future — or now, for that matter.

Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.

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