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Biden embraces ‘Bidenomics’ label, gambling he can sell the economy to skeptical voters

President Biden spoke Wednesday at the Old Post Office in Chicago.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — It’s Bidenomics vs. Bidenflation as the 2024 election kicks into high gear.

President Biden sought to reshape the fight over branding the economy Wednesday with a major address co-opting the media-created term “Bidenomics,” hoping to counter Republican efforts since 2021 to blame him for fast-rising prices that have sharply increased Americans’ cost of living.

The dueling monikers, the other coined by Republicans two years ago, demonstrate the economy’s unusual condition as the presidential campaign begins. It’s a time of still-high inflation but continued low unemployment that gives both Republicans and Democrats ammunition to frame an issue that polls show is the most important in the election.

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By fully embracing the label Bidenomics — a word plastered in capital letters around the stage at his Chicago event — Biden is taking ownership of the state of the economy, betting there won’t be a recession before the election, or at least not a deep one. He also is hoping he can do a better job selling his administration’s efforts to improve the lives of low- and middle-income Americans than he has so far and reverse Americans’ consistently negative views of his handling of the economy.

Biden sought to do that Wednesday by contrasting his economic philosophy with what he called the Republican “trickle-down” approach that focuses on reducing taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, theoretically to boost jobs and growth. That philosophy took hold in the 1980s with another lasting brand — Reaganomics.

“Bidenomics is about building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down,” Biden said in a speech at Chicago’s Old Post Office, giving an official name to the credo he has emphasized since his 2020 campaign.

He said there are three facets of his economic philosophy: investing in key American industries, such as clean energy and semiconductor manufacturing; educating and empowering workers; and promoting competition to lower costs. Biden highlighted legislation enacted during his presidency, such as the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that is paying for thousands of new construction projects, and a bill that reduces the cost of prescription drugs, that are helping fulfill those goals. He noted the record 13 million jobs created since he took office and that the annual rate of inflation is now less than half the four-decade high set a year ago.

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Touting his accomplishments is crucial for Biden’s reelection, and the speech is part of an administration wide effort over the coming months, according to a memo this week from two top White House advisers. A poll released Wednesday from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed just 34 percent of adults approve of his handling of the economy, which is significantly below his low overall approval rating.

“He’s not getting the credit with the voters that he deserves for the strength of the American economy today,” said Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who called the economic focus “a welcome development.” “I think it’s important that voters have a better understanding of the progress that we’ve made in this country coming out of a very difficult period.”

But Biden’s gamble comes with risks. Inflation remains elevated and the Federal Reserve’s effort to bring it down through higher interest rates has slowed economic growth and risks pushing the country into a recession. On Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said there is a “significant probability” the country is headed toward a recession, although he doesn’t think that’s the most likely case.

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Republicans have pounded away on Biden, blaming the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill he championed in his first weeks in office as sparking a surge in prices that they labeled Bidenflation. Many economists agree the spending helped cause inflation to flare in 2021, but rapid price growth has also been fueled by supply chain problems and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Regardless, Republicans continue to stress the harm inflation is causing to average Americans and dismissed Bidenomics as political spin.

“It’s not a coherent philosophy in my view at all. Most of it is messaging,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative-leaning American Action Forum think tank and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “They’re trying to put together the largest lipstick that has ever been created to make it look good.”

Economists have been predicting an approaching recession for more than a year, but have also repeatedly delayed when that would happen. Holtz-Eakin put the odds of a recession at greater than 50 percent, predicting a mild one will hit toward the end of this year and last about six months. Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide, an insurance and financial services company, said there is at least a 70 percent chance of a recession before the election.

“Consumers may not be feeling as happy and as good as the Biden administration would want because of inflation,” she said. “That’s still a tough pill for consumers to deal with.”

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But she said Biden has accomplishments worth highlighting and the economy has proved to be surprisingly resilient in the face of inflation and the recent bank failures. Biden said at a fund-raiser Tuesday night that despite the constant “dire predictions” he did not think a recession was coming.

“Guess what? Bidenomics has worked,” he said in Chicago Wednesday, adding that continuing to bring down inflation remains one of his top priorities. He then stressed the Inflation Reduction Act he signed into law last year, which capped out-of-pocket insulin costs and will reduce other prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients by allowing the government for the first time to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.

Biden needs to discuss his policies in more specific detail if he is to boost his approval rating on the economy, said Kristian Ramos, a senior adviser with Way to Win Action Fund, a progressive group.

The organization’s research arm recently conducted eight focus groups in English and Spanish with Latino voters in Arizona and Nevada and found the participants were “largely unaware of anything that President Biden had done to make their lives better.” But when they were told about specific Biden accomplishments, they were more likely to support Biden.

“Latinos are experiencing the benefits of these policies: ‘I’ve got a better job. I have more money.’ They are aware of these things,” Ramos said. “What President Biden is doing is saying, ‘My policies are what helped you get them and Republicans are trying to take them away.’ We have to do this for the next year and a half.”

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Rosenberg, the Democratic strategist, said the substance of the message was key. While Bidenomics is a useful term, he said, the important thing is for Biden to talk about his accomplishments.

“It’s really not the label that’s going to matter. It’s the reality that the country is far better off today” than when Biden took office, Rosenberg said. “I think he’s got a good story to tell. He’s got to be aggressive about telling it.”


Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at jim.puzzanghera@globe.com. Follow him @JimPuzzanghera.