Coming off a well-received address to Congress, President Biden and Vice President Harris are heading out on the road to sell their American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. They received an extra boost Thursday morning with the release of new economic numbers that raise the prospects of a robust recovery.
The economy grew at a 6.4 percent annual rate in the first quarter of 2021, vindicating predictions of an economic boom year. The Post reports: “As recently as early January, economists surveyed by Wolters Kluwer’s Blue Chip Economic Indicators thought the first quarter would see just 0.6 percent growth (2.3 percent annualized) as the pandemic peaked, but they raised their forecasts as stimulus money flooded the country and 94 million Americans were at least partly vaccinated in a three-month period.” In other words, the American Rescue Plan likely propelled much higher growth in a much shorter period of time, as Biden said it would.
Moreover, 553,000 Americans filed unemployment claims last week, a new low for the third straight week. The Post reports: “This marks a 13,000 decrease compared to last week, putting the insured unemployment rate around 2.6 percent, the Labor Department said. While claims remain elevated (In 2019, average weekly initial claims hovered around 218,000), the trajectory signals that growing vaccination numbers, loosening business restrictions and warmer weather are helping to heal the jobs market.” Certainly 553,000 new claims is a lot, but considering that a year ago more than 3.8 million Americans were applying for initial unemployment benefits, and the national unemployment rate was between 15 and 20 percent, there is plenty to celebrate.
Biden should benefit from an economic rebound in large part due to his rescue plan, which Republicans unanimously rejected. He can rightly claim he succeeded despite Republicans’ obstruction. The surging economy and perception of success will also help him corral Democrats to support his jobs and family plans while giving Republicans in swing districts and purple states reason to worry if undiluted opposition to a successful agenda is smart strategy.
On one hand, Republicans might argue we don’t need such a big jobs bill now because the economy is recovering. But long-term investment in infrastructure is vital for economic competitiveness and growth down the road. Plus, with more people working and fewer taking government benefits, the nation’s balance sheet may look a little rosier, allaying concerns about the cost of some of Biden’s plans. (Will Biden be able argue that, given all the economic growth, we do not need quite so much new tax revenue to fund his plans?)
It is striking to see the asymmetry between Biden heading out into the country — full of hope, packing a batch of ambitious plans, crowing about a rising economic tide — and Republicans. The latter lack a coherent message (as we saw in the weirdly platitudinous response of Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) defending Georgia’s anti-voting legislation and praising Biden’s predecessor, even though the former president botched the coronavirus response). Republicans remain full of gloom and doom, predicting the decline of Western civilization and taking offense whenever racism is called out so as to rationalize their message of White victimhood.
It is as if the two parties are not engaged in the same political sphere. And in some ways, they aren’t. Biden is solving real-word problems and reaping the rewards. Republicans are fulminating about transgender kids in sports, an imaginary war on meat and businesses acting like responsible corporate citizens. Is this really how Republicans will behave as Biden runs victory laps around the country? It seems so.