Since inflation's pace has slowed and growth has accelerated, President Biden has embraced as his own what once was a Republican slur on his economic policies — "Bidenomics." Though few commentators seem to have noticed, Bidenomics bears a striking resemblance to "America First," the economic programs of former President Donald Trump that helped endear him to so many working-class voters.
"While they are motivated by radically different agendas," says Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone's Private Wealth Solutions division, "Trump's and Biden's economic policies have striking parallels."
Both presidents, understandably, emphasize their differences. With respect to trade, for example, Trump has blasted Biden's policies as a "total economic surrender to China and other foreign countries."
Yet Biden, like Trump, has abandoned both his predecessors' commitment to free trade and embraced protectionism, especially with respect to China. He has emulated Trump's rejection of the hope that China's aggression could be reduced by encouraging Beijing's incorporation into global trade. Biden has not reversed the virtual ban that Trump imposed on the government's use of Chinese drones. And both presidents have used incentives and disincentives to bolster domestic production of semiconductor chips and other high-tech components that China is attempting to monopolize. Trump and Biden have both been focused on bringing American jobs home.
"I wouldn't exactly call Biden's approach Trump-lite, or Trump 2.0," says Steve Israel, a former Democratic congressman from New York who now owns Theodore's Books in Oyster Bay, N.Y. "But Biden's economic policies on China are a more nuanced version of Trump — Trump 1.5."
Both presidents have tried to reorient the Pentagon away from the Middle East to confront China and Russia. Neither wanted to keep American forces in Afghanistan. Biden also has followed Trump's reordering of the defense budget to strengthen America's military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
On infrastructure, while Trump railed against what he considered to be America's third-world status and vowed to invest heavily in modernizing its roads, rails and power sources, he never introduced legislation to do that. Biden, by contrast, pushed through Congress bills authorizing more than $1 trillion for bridges, roads, manufacturing and combating climate change.
Though Biden initially denounced Trump's border and immigration policies as a "moral and ethical" shame, his administration only gradually loosened the restrictions Trump imposed to stop the flood of undocumented people and asylum seekers at the southern border. And while Biden has increased the number of work visas for migrants, he, like Trump, has increased spending on border security. He also has required migrants to apply for entry through a problematic phone app or new regional processing centers in Latin America. Finally, he has implemented his own version of Trump's Title 42 program that enabled Trump to quickly expel migrants at the border, including asylum seekers. While the Biden policy encourages legal pathways to entry, it also imposes harsh penalties for crossing illegally, including a five-year ban on re-entering the U.S. and being designated "ineligible for asylum." Trump did not do that.
Both presidents have relished spending money. Breaking with the GOP's economic orthodoxy favoring fiscal probity and reducing deficits and the national debt, Trump spent lavishly, and not just on programs to reduce COVID's devastating impact. His pandemic stimulus bills alone gave over $2 trillion to agencies, businesses and families. Projected government outlays increased significantly under Trump, from some 21% of GDP in 2019 to 23.4% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030. According to Congressional Budget Office data, Trump increased the nation's projected deficits by $6.9 trillion.
His massive spending and tax cuts eased the way for Biden to embark on his own spending binge. The American Rescue Plan alone cost $1.9 trillion, one of the largest recovery plans in U.S. history.
While Republicans have blamed Biden's spending for the stubbornly high inflation rate (they were silent when Trump was printing Treasury checks bearing his own name), Wien attributes it to rising energy prices and the Federal Reserve's decision to keep interest rates low for so long.
Team Biden, by contrast, has been claiming credit for the fastest recovery in the Western world, plentiful jobs and soaring numbers of new small businesses, record-low unemployment, and a GDP that has surged by 6%, the fastest pace in decades. Unemployment has fallen from 6.3% to 3.8% in August, and average hourly earnings have risen by 12% to $33.82.
Though impressive, Americans are not thanking Biden for this. A poll in May by The Associated Press showed that only 33% of adults approved of Biden's handling of the economy.
If Biden gets too little credit for his economic achievements, he has partly himself to blame.
True, many in the media have ignored or underplayed his accomplishments, preferring to focus yet again on the four-time indicted presumptive GOP presidential nominee. But Biden has enabled them to do so. However skillful his stewardship of the economy — and his record is impressive — Biden lacks the one skill at which his predecessor excelled: "messaging" — that is, keeping the media's spotlight squarely on himself.