Biden announced on Wednesday that his more than $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan, if passed as proposed, will be offset by increased Society taxes. Republicans, proponents of lowering taxes, have criticized this and the potential the plan must add to the country’s national debt, which stands at $ 28 trillion and is not over.
When asked on Wednesday if he plans to support the proposal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Kentucky: “If there are massive tax hikes and billions more added to the national debt, it is not likely.
The problem for McConnell and his fellow Republicans is that, unlike other periods in recent history, Americans’ current reaction to the national debt portion of his argument is a collective yawn.
Debt as a political issue
Not long ago Americans were extremely concerned about the national debt.
Cutting reckless public spending is a staple political element, but it is usually only in times of economic downturn that Americans ask their elected officials to pay off the federal debt, which has grown steadily over the century. latest.
In 1992, during a recession, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot made the national debt the keystone of his campaign, forcing both President George HW Bush and then-Democratic candidate Bill Clinton to address the issue. . After Perot got 19% of the vote, the debt was cemented as a priority and Clinton, in his second term, ended up balancing the federal budget, even though he did not reduce the overall national debt.
Barack Obama, just before taking office during the Great Recession in 2009, told the Washington Post he would hold a “fiscal responsibility summit” after taking the oath to help understand how to keep government spending on rights under control. such as Social Security and Medicare. And when Donald Trump was a presidential candidate in 2016, he promised to eliminate the then $ 19 trillion debt “over an eight-year period.”
Trump was undoubtedly speaking to his Republican base, which at the time still included many followers of the Tea Party movement and its strict anti-national debt philosophy. This movement germinated during Obama’s first year in office and succeeded in removing many Democrats from Congress by opposing government spending.
Yet despite all of this, the national debt exploded under these two presidents, increasing by $ 9 trillion under Obama and an additional $ 8 trillion under Trump.
Debt Concerns Decline Among Americans
During this period, the influence of the Tea Party waned and Americans’ concerns about the national debt declined, despite the concerns of some conservatives and economists about the long-term implications of a deeply indebted U.S. government.
In 2010, just after the height of the Great Recession, Americans ranked federal debt as the number one threat to the “well-being” of the United States, linked to terrorism, according to Gallup survey.
Ten years later, according to Pew Research survey conducted last June, 47% of Americans called the federal budget deficit – which is on top of the overall national debt – a “very big problem”, up from 55% in September 2018. The decrease came even as the administration Trump and Congress were increasing spending on coronavirus relief, including a $ 2 trillion bill including direct payments to Americans.
With freshly released Biden signature a $ 1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that now launches $ 2 trillion more in spending – with potentially $ 2 trillion more to come in a few weeks – it finds itself in a different political environment Obama’s in 2009 and George HW Bush’s in 1992.
Biden and his fellow Democrats took control of the White House and Congress for the first time since Obama signed his recessionary stimulus in 2009.
Unlike 2009, when Americans blamed the government, big banks, and the wealthy for their economic woes, this time around, many Americans are turning to the government to help ease the economic crisis brought on by a one-time pandemic. century.
For this reason, Biden arguably finds himself with far more political capital than any president since George W. Bush after the attacks of September 11, 2001, another time in U.S. history when an outside force s t is looking to the federal government for answers.
Amid the positive approval ratings, overwhelming support from Americans for his COVID relief bill and now what is shaping up to be significant support for an infrastructure proposal partially funded by tax increases, Biden Rides a wave of positive sentiment, one that someone with decades of political experience knows can be fleeting. That’s why Biden is pushing for more while he can.
“We’ve been here before. When this country hit the Great Recession that Barack and I inherited in 2009, I was asked to lead the effort on the economic recovery law to get it passed, ”Biden said in February. “But it was not enough. It was not big enough. This contained the crisis, but the recovery could have been faster and even stronger. “
Biden and the Democrats are banking on all of these stimuli that actually boost the economy, boost the fortunes of Americans and, therefore, the electoral fortunes of Democrats. If their strategy works, the Republican outcry over the national debt will likely continue to fall on deaf ears.
Then again, if all of this government spending leads to lingering economic problems, especially for middle and working class Americans, perhaps the national debt argument, as it did in 1992 and 2010, will once again come back to life. an important political problem.