Signed with fanfare in August 2022, the White House was hoping the Inflation Reduction Act could serve as a political springboard heading into a campaign cycle.
But as the White House marks the anniversary of the law, sending officials out on the road and seeking to lean into one of President Biden’s signature legislative accomplishments, there are signs it isn’t living up to those hopes.
“The Inflation Reduction Act — I wish I hadn’t called it that, because it has less to do with reducing inflation than it does to do with dealing with providing for alternatives that generate economic growth,” Biden told donors last week in Utah.
The president’s comments were a nod to a persistent problem with the Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law Aug. 16, 2022: that the White House and Democrats have struggled to communicate to the public how the legislation has helped improve their daily lives.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted in mid-July found 71 percent of Americans surveyed said they know little or nothing about the law.
The poll showed that respondents were supportive of specific provisions contained in the law, such as expanded tax credits to install solar panels, but when asked how they felt about the Inflation Reduction Act as a whole, 39 percent said they supported it while 39 percent said they weren’t sure.
“I just know it’s working. It’s not a coincidence that the United States has higher growth and faster inflation decline compared to all of our other high-income competitors. President Biden’s policies are working and, I think, when election time comes, he’ll get credit for that,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters last week.
“But it’s also true that Americans are still struggling,” he continued. “Just because inflation is coming down and unemployment is low, we still are living in an economy that grinds a lot of people down because they’re working hard and not making enough to make ends meet. That’s getting better. Wages are going up. They’re going up at a particularly fast rate for the lowest-income workers, but this progress still doesn’t solve everybody’s problems.”
The inability of Democrats to successfully message on the bill’s features has handed Republicans an opportunity to define it themselves, especially in red states and districts that could decide control of the House and Senate next year.
Nowhere is that more acute than in West Virginia with Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who helped write the law and usher it through, and has subsequently seen his favorability ratings falter. Earlier this year, Manchin made waves when he said in an interview that he would vote to repeal the full bill in protest of the administration’s implementation of the package.
However, Manchin changed his tune last week and embraced portions of the law, including those aimed at lowering the national debt and prescription drug prices, capping insulin prices and winning health benefits for coal miners. He labeled it “one of the most historic pieces of legislation passed in decades.”
“These types of investments are exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the Inflation Reduction Act,” Manchin said in the statement.
Republicans instantly went on offense against the West Virginia incumbent last week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) assailed Manchin for “re-embracing the law that West Virginians overwhelmingly detest.”
“After threatening to repeal the disastrous law he wrote, Joe Manchin is back to embracing Democrats’ reckless spending spree,” McConnell’s office said Friday.
At the heart of the Republican economic message is the assertion that the administration’s plan is not doing enough for those who are struggling and that Democrats continue to gloss over what the GOP says is a sagging economy. A CNBC poll taken last month showed that Biden’s economic approval rating stood at 37 percent, a figure that rose 3 points since April.
“As we head into election season, Biden and the Democrats own the economy. There continues to be a great divide between what the Democrats say and what the voters live,” one Republican operative said, pointing to the repeated comments by the White House over the last year that rising inflation was temporary and then transitory.
“They continue to be patronizing and talk down to people. It plays into an overarching narrative of incompetence and being disconnected from the real world,” the operative continued.
The Biden administration and its allies are spending this week making a concerted push around the anniversary of the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, remaining determined it can be a winning issue for Democrats.
Biden will travel to Milwaukee Tuesday for an event to tout the law and its achievements of lowering costs of prescription drugs and other items. He will host Democratic lawmakers at the White House Wednesday for a “celebration” of the official anniversary of the bill signing.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled Monday to Nevada to highlight the economic benefits of the law and tour a clean energy worker training center.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will join Vice President Harris in Seattle Tuesday to talk about how the law is providing clean air and water along with union jobs, the White House said.
Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman will also visit Florida, Kansas, Colorado and California this week to highlight how the law has impacted small businesses.
“That’s quite a lot of good done by one piece of legislation, historic piece of legislation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “And the president and his team are excited to bring that message to the American people throughout the week.”