WASHINGTON (AP) — As president, Donald Trump pledged to restore U.S. infrastructure. He vowed to take on China and ramp up US production. He said he would cut the budget deficit and make sure the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
But after two years as president, it is Joe Biden who is delivering on those promises. He jokes that he created an “infrastructure decade” after Trump just made a near parody of “infrastructure weeks.” His legislative victories won’t win him votes from Trump loyalists or boost his overall approval ratings. But they reflect an important pivot in government handling of the economy at a time when many Americans fear a recession and broader national decline.
Gone are blanket tax cuts. No more unbridled confidence in free trade with non-democracies. The Biden White House has pledged more than $1.7 trillion to the belief that a mix of government aid, targeted policy and bureaucratic expertise can deliver long-term growth that elevates the middle class. This reverses the previous administration’s view that lowering regulations and taxes stimulated corporate investment that flowed to workers.
With new laws in place, Biden is betting that the federal bureaucracy can successfully implement and fulfill his promises even after he leaves office.
That’s a tricky spot, as Trump himself has learned that global crises like a pandemic can quickly destroy the foundations of an economic agenda, causing businesses and voters to shift priorities. There are few guarantees that the economy will behave in 10 years as government forecasts expect, while Biden’s policies are likely to be challenged by the new Republican majority in the House.
Biden and his team say Americans are already seeing the bright side with announcements for new computer chip factories and some 6,000 ongoing infrastructure projects.
“There is an industrial strategy that uses public investment to drive more private capital and more innovation in the historical tradition of everyone from Alexander Hamilton to Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy,” said Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council of the White House. “The results speak for themselves.”
Trump’s supporters see little overlap with Biden, even though funding for infrastructure, computer chip manufacturing, and scientific research has been passed along twofold lines.
“The agenda of the Biden administration is 180 degrees different,” said James Carter, policy director at the America First Policy Institute. “More regulation, higher taxes, no border control and a war on fossil fuels. They are two different administrations with two different approaches. One is the free market, the other is big government.”
The current and former president seem almost connected in the public arena. On the eve of August, when Biden signed into law $280 billion for semiconductors and research, FBI agents raided Trump’s home to retrieve classified documents, overshadowing the White House event. Similarly, Biden called out Trump as a threat to democracy ahead of the November midterm elections, while Republicans campaigned by hammering the president at worrying levels of inflation.
Biden aides are quick to say the president is keeping his own campaign promises, rather than keeping Trump’s promises. But one of Biden’s first moves as president in 2021 was to make $1,400 in direct payments to Americans as part of his coronavirus relief package. Together with the $600 in payments in a pre-Biden aid package, the amount matched the $2,000 Trump asked for at the twilight of his presidency, though he couldn’t get it through Congress.
“I would avoid the assumption that Joe Biden somehow took Donald Trump’s ideas and made them into law,” Deese said. “What President Biden has done is take the campaign agenda he campaigned on and actually deliver on it.”
Despite this, Americans give Biden low numbers for the economy. Inflation has come down from a 40-year peak this summer, but consumer prices are still 7.1% higher than a year ago. The Federal Reserve raises its benchmark interest rate to lower inflation, which its own projections suggest is that unemployment will rise in the coming year.
According to a new poll from The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, three in four Americans describe the economy as poor, while nearly the same percentage say the US is on the wrong track.
Biden asks for patience.
“I know it’s been a rough couple of years for hard-working Americans and small businesses as well,” Biden said in his remarks on inflation on Tuesday. “But there are bright spots all over America where we’re starting to see the impact of our economic strategy, and we’re just getting started.”
Trump supporters blame Biden’s separate $1.9 trillion in coronavirus aid for fueling inflation, even though it included about $400 billion in direct payments the former president said Americans should receive. They argue that the US economy would be stronger if Biden took steps such as allowing all companies to fully spend their investments in new equipment, rather than providing targeted support to the technology and clean energy sectors.
But even excluding the pandemic-induced recession, Trump’s economic track record has been far from sterling as the promised growth never materialized. Manufacturers began cutting jobs in 2019 before the coronavirus spread, rather than the steady resurgence promised by Trump. Annual budget deficits have worsened under Trump, but have improved under Biden as pandemic aid has been phased out.
Biden tells Americans that his policies will strengthen the US economy over the next decade. His $52 billion for computer chip production has spawned a series of breakthrough factories in Arizona, Idaho, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas that will take years to complete. The idea is that government support 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 book “Chip War,” said the incentives are only a fraction of the cost of building the factories. Miller said the benefits of the investments will spill over to the companies that sell raw materials to chipmakers and possibly to the makers of cars, electronics and home appliances that increasingly rely on chips.
“The financing of chips makes it clear that there will be a lot more fab construction and chip production in the US,” he said, “so for suppliers to the chip industry, they have more clarity that demand for their products will be higher than otherwise. would have been, which encouraged them to invest as well.”
Despite all the economic worries, manufacturing has improved under Biden as factory employment totals 12.9 million jobs, the highest number since December 2008. Just as Biden has boosted domestic investment, he has also expanded government efforts Trump to compete with China and maintain his predecessor’s tariffs.
The Biden administration has restricted the export of advanced computer chips and semiconductor equipment, arguing for national security reasons that China uses this technology for surveillance and hypersonic missiles. It has also formed deeper partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea and several European countries to counter China’s rising influence.
Kurt Campbell, Biden’s “Asian czar” on the White House National Security Council, said many of Trump’s State Department initiatives on China have been “followed” during Biden’s presidency, saying at a panel in April that “in many ways, that is the highest tribute to the previous government.
But Steve Yates, a senior fellow at the America First Policy Institute and former president of Radio Free Asia, said Biden has not shown he puts the same emphasis on China as Trump.
Yates cited as evidence that Biden’s national security strategy identifies that the US has a shared interest with China in tackling climate change. He said China will exploit that priority to their advantage, as Biden’s willingness to cooperate on climate change will prevent him from confronting Beijing as Trump did.
“We just have a weakened hand,” Yates said.