In First SOTU, Joe Biden Seeks To Reassure Americans Worried About Rising Prices

"I want you to know that we are going to be OK,” the president said, announcing measures to address high costs at the store and the pump.

WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans worried about rising prices, a top economic issue and growing political threat for his party just months away from the November midterm elections.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has added an element of international chaos to an already-shaky domestic political situation, with economic sanctions against Russia threatening the U.S. economy by potentially spiking gas prices.

Biden said he knew the news could sound alarming.

“But I want you to know that we are going to be OK,” the president said in an emphatic whisper. “We’re going to be OK.”

Surging inflation and high gas prices have overwhelmed low unemployment, rapid job growth and rising wages in the public’s perception of how the economy is doing. Although people tell pollsters they’re highly satisfied with their own lives, just 17% think the country’s going in the right direction, according to Gallup polling. Consumer confidence has cratered; a majority of Americans even say they think the economy is in a recession or a depression.

Biden took the podium on Tuesday with his approval rating underwater, a trend that threatens to erase his party’s narrow majorities in both houses of Congress in November. According to the Five Thirty-Eight polling average, 54% of Americans disapprove of his performance, while only 41% approve. A majority of independents and even some Democrats give him poor marks.

Rather than simply trumpeting the good economic news, Biden acknowledged the sour public mood in his speech.

“With all the bright spots in our economy, record job growth and higher wages, too many families are struggling to keep up with the bills,” he said. “Inflation is robbing them of the gains they might otherwise feel. I get it. That’s why my top priority is getting prices under control.”

In an effort to push down gas prices, Biden announced that 60 million barrels of oil will be released from strategic reserves around the world, adding that the U.S. stands ready to do more if needed.

Although he’s signed some historic legislation into law — a huge COVID relief package that bolstered the economy and lifted millions of children out of poverty and a bipartisan infrastructure overhaul that will build thousands of new roads and bridges — Biden has been unable to unite his party around the Build Back Better bill, social spending and climate legislation that Democrats vowed would transform American life for the better

Biden did not mention Build Back Better during his speech but outlined a series of proposals lifted straight from the bill, including prescription drug reform, child care subsidies, tax incentives for green energy, and universal pre-kindergarten.

Instead of describing these initiatives as reshaping society, Biden simply promised that they would reduce costs and bring down overall inflation.

“I call it building a better America,” Biden said. “My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.”

Biden also announced that the Justice Department would crack down on “pandemic fraud” and combat uncompetitive prices in the ocean shipping industry.

Tuesday’s rhetoric was a bit more modest than Biden’s remarks when he addressed a joint session of Congress last year with visions of “rebuilding the nation, revitalizing our democracy, and winning the future for America.”

The newfound emphasis on reducing the deficit seemed designed to appeal especially to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who balked at Build Back Better in December and sat with GOP lawmakers on Tuesday, the lone Democrat to sit on the opposite side of the center aisle from the rest of his party.

Manchin didn’t seem convinced, telling reporters afterward that “nothing’s changed” with regard to his opposition to Build Back Better.

Republicans applauded Biden’s rhetoric on confronting Russian aggression but panned the remainder of his speech, blaming his policies for causing inflation.

In the official GOP response to Biden’s speech, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said it “feels like President Biden and his party has sent us back in time to the late 1970s and early 1980s,” citing inflation and worrying conflicts abroad.

“They were warned that spending trillions would lead to soaring inflation,” she said. “They were told that their anti-energy policies would lead gas prices to new heights.”

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