As Midterms Loom, White House Aims To Blunt GOP Edge On Inflation

Get ready to hear the phrase "mega MAGA trickledown” a lot more over the next few weeks.

With midterm elections less than two weeks away and voters worried about spiraling costs, President Joe Biden will hit the road Thursday to warn that if Republicans win control of Congress, inflation will get worse.

The White House said Wednesday that Republican plans to extend the temporary tax cuts they enacted in 2017 would put upward pressure on prices, and so would their plans to reverse recent Democratic legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate for cheaper prescription drugs.

Administration officials repeatedly described the Republican agenda as “mega MAGA trickle-down economics” during a conference call, echoing a phrase Biden used last week at a Democratic National Committee event.

“Republicans are doubling down on their mega MAGA trickle-down economics that benefits the very wealthy,” Biden said Monday. “It failed their country before and will fail it again if they win.”

Democrats had hoped that the Supreme Court decision ending federal abortion rights would help them escape the electoral beating that a president’s party usually takes in midterm elections. Abortion gave Democrats a boost this summer, but polls still give Republicans strong odds of taking the House and maybe the Senate, with inflation the No. 1 issue in essentially every public and private political survey.

Stanley Greenberg, a veteran Democratic pollster, released a memo on Tuesday arguing that Democrats need to focus almost exclusively on cost-of-living issues in the final days of the election. While he argues there is little the party can do to blunt Republican attacks on immigration or crime issues, they can still gain ground on economic issues.

“It is going to get worse, unless Democrats focus on the cost of living and make it their closing message,” Greenberg wrote, citing the results of a poll in key battleground states that tested a number of messages.

Greenberg’s key advice for Democrats is to acknowledge that many Americans are struggling and to emphasize that Democrats took on entrenched interest groups Republicans are still beholden to. Here’s what he recommends as the party’s closing argument:

“Working people haven’t seen a real pay increase in years. And Washington doesn’t get it. The special interests call the shots. But finally, Democrats raised taxes on the big corporations and lowered costs for working families by cutting their taxes, reducing health care, prescription drug, and energy costs, and went after price gouging. Republicans get their money from big oil and big pharmaceutical special interests. Republicans don’t get it.”

He also warned Democrats not to try an all-of-the-above approach, saying that mentioning abortion rights, Republican extremism or attempting to sell Biden’s accomplishments only weakens the Democratic message.

“Our cost of living message (and recognizing no pay raise) is the only message that marginally grows the vote against this onslaught,” Greenberg said. “The message currently being used by the White House and many national Democrats loses the vote further.”

A new ad from Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Democratic Party’s nominee in a Senate race against Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, hits many of Greenberg’s recommended notes.

“I see your hard work, everything you do to try to make it,” Barnes says in the ad over footage of him meeting with regular Wisconsinites at their workplaces. “But people continue to be left behind. I’m running for Senate to put more money in your pocket. Ron Johnson’s had 12 years to make things better. But costs are still rising, and all he’s managed to do is write a tax cut for himself.”

Biden will travel to Syracuse, New York, on Thursday to reprise his “mega MAGA trickledown” speech at the site of a forthcoming computer chip factory. On Monday, he described “mega MAGA trickledown” as his closing argument before next month’s election. It’s essentially a Trump-themed recapitulation of the classic Democratic pitch that the party supports working people while Republicans support the rich.

“We, the Democrats, are the ones that are fiscally responsible,” Biden said. “Let’s get that straight now, OK? We’re investing in all of America, reducing everyday costs while also lowering the deficit at the same time. Republicans are fiscally reckless, pushing tax cuts for the very wealthy that aren’t paid for, and [exploding] the deficit that is making inflation worse.”

Undoing the corporate tax increases Democrats signed into law as part of the Inflation Reduction Act would likely have a marginal impact on inflation. The 2017 tax cuts for individuals are not set to expire until 2025; administration officials declined to say whether Biden supported letting all or just some of them lapse at that time.

The biggest decider of inflation’s course over the next two years will likely be the Federal Reserve, not Congress. The central bank has been jacking up interest rates in an effort to slow inflation by slowing down the entire economy, a strategy supported by most lawmakers in both parties. The biggest question is how bad the economy will get as a result.

But Biden did zero in on a high-stakes fiscal policy showdown that Republicans have called for next year over the debt ceiling. Republicans have said they would withhold support from legislation allowing the federal government to borrow money in order to pay bills Congress has incurred over the years, potentially triggering an unprecedented debt default and economic crisis.

Some Republicans have suggested they’ll hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors.

“They’ve stated boldly that they want to cut Social Security and Medicare, to the point that they’ll shut down the government, they say, and send the nation into default, which raises prices for everyone, if we do not cut Social Security and Medicare,” Biden said. “I ain’t gonna do it.”

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