(CNN) – If Joe Biden built a road in a quiet forest, would anyone know? That’s the philosophical problem of a president who should be living one of the best days of his presidency, but who is instead struggling to convince Americans that he has accomplished something.
Biden made good on his promise to sign a major infrastructure bill, which previous presidents had eluded, into law. He did it, against all odds, on a bipartisan basis. The signing ceremony attended by members of both parties this Monday at the White House should have been a victory lap.
Instead, there are prescient headlines for Biden and the Democrats.
New polls suggest that Americans don’t understand his accomplishments and blame him for the state of the economy that worries them.
His approval rating, never extremely strong for a new president, is not too far from Donald Trump’s turf.
CNN’s Edward Isaac-Dovere and Jasmine Wright reported this weekend on mutual frustration between the White House and Vice President Kamala Harris’s office.
I will limit myself to sharing the first paragraph of the story, which is backed by an exhaustive report:
“Worn out by what they see as entrenched dysfunction and a lack of focus, top aides in the West Wing have turned their backs on Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff, deciding that there is simply no time to deal with them right now, especially in a time when President Joe Biden is faced with rapidly multiplying legislative and political concerns. “
This is not the kind of story that gets spread when things go according to plan.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki came out in defense of Harris through Twitter, Sunday night.
“For anyone who needs to hear it. @VP is not only a vital @POTUS partner but a fearless leader who has taken on the key and important challenges facing the country, from the right to vote to addressing the root causes of migration and expanding broadband, “Psaki tweeted.
Americans still don’t understand Biden
The Washington Post headline for a new ABC News poll was grim: “Biden’s approval hits new low as economic discontent rises.” I asked CNN’s Director of Polls and Election Research, Jennifer Agiesta, how we should view these polls.
What kind of fall is this? “There certainly hasn’t been much good news for Biden in any of the recent polls – his numbers aren’t in great shape – but the way the polls are sometimes reported can make it sound a little worse than it really is.” Agiesta said.
“Although Biden has recently hit new lows in various polls, the previous comparison points for some of those polls were long ago. So while his numbers have certainly dropped since the summer and around Labor Day, it’s unclear whether they currently they continue to decline or if they have stagnated, “he explained.
Americans not only question Biden’s accomplishments, they are also concerned about his priorities. Agiesta pointed to a CNN poll, conducted by SSRS in early November, in which 58% said the president hasn’t paid enough attention to the biggest issues.
In summary. “Biden’s approval rating figures are consistently at lows in several major polls, but it is not clear whether they are currently continuing to decline or have stabilized,” Agiesta added.
And it is impossible to know if its approval has hit rock bottom.
It’s the economy, as always
The problems for Biden in the survey center on perception and the economy. Inflation is expected to persist for months.
As long as Americans are concerned about the economy, it could be extremely difficult for Biden to convince them that his spending package is helping them.
According to The Washington Post-ABC poll:
- 70% of Americans have a negative view of the economy
- Almost half the country, 48%, blames Biden for inflation
- More than 6 in 10 Americans, including 71% of independents, say they haven’t accomplished much
How does Biden’s approval compare?
Biden doesn’t have the lowest approval rating of any recent president at this point in his first term. That dubious honor belongs to Trump, according to Gallup. But Biden (42% approval, in October) is not far above Trump (37% approval, at this point in his presidency).
Why is infrastructure difficult to sell?
If you have read the text of the infrastructure legislation and have wondered why there are no more details on what exactly it will do, it is because the package, by design, does not include specific projects.
States, perhaps dusting off much-needed projects for those without funding, will request their share of the $ 550 billion in new spending. CNN’s Katie Lobosco examines four possible infrastructure projects:
- The Brent Spence Bridge. It’s a vital artery in the Midwest, but it’s stuck. The legislation could put a second bridge next to the first and get traffic and trucks moving more quickly over the Ohio River. between Cincinnati and Kentucky
- Expand Atlanta’s public transportation. Exclusive bus lines outside of Atlanta have been studied and approved. The new law could free up the $ 1 billion needed to make them a reality
- Improve Chicago’s rail hub. A quarter of the nation’s rail freight traffic passes through Chicago, but the downtown lines have been described as a “plate of spaghetti.” Federal money could help unravel things
- Improve the port of Baltimore. Officials want to raise their hands to get some of the $ 17 billion the law earmarks for ports. One of the projects they envision is the improvement of electric feeders and the provision of new electric vehicles, including container cranes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the nation’s top Republican-elect, was not at the signing ceremony at the White House, but has bragged about the funding in his home state of Kentucky, where he said it was a ” heaven gift”.
It will also be difficult for Democrats to focus on selling this infrastructure package, as they are still arguing over an even larger social spending bill that would have an immediate effect on the lives of Americans by ensuring schooling for the children of the United States. USA from 3 years instead of 5.
If the Democrats make it past the finish line, they will have even more to brag about. But they will have to pierce through the frustration voters feel about inflation.
How taxpayer dollars helped Tesla
Here’s an example of where tax dollars go when they leak into the economy.
CNN’s Chris Isidore notes that Tesla, one of the world’s most valuable companies, has benefited from billions in tax incentives.
It could raise billions more if the social spending bill is signed into law and the government begins granting electric vehicle buyers new tax credits of $ 7,500 per vehicle.
A worthwhile exchange
If electric vehicles are valued over gasoline-powered vehicles – and anyone who is concerned about climate change should do so – the tax incentives for companies like Tesla are probably worth it.
However, it is extremely frustrating to watch Elon Musk trolling to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter about taxes, as Musk has received help from taxpayers.
“You want me to sell more stocks, Bernie? You just have to say the word …”, Musk tweeted Sunday as part of his trolling.
Here are Isidore’s calculations (and please read his story to understand more about each of these elements):
- Tesla has received $ 5 billion to date from the sale of emission credits
- SpaceX has received $ 10 billion to date in contracts from NASA
- Tesla has been able to collect $ 1.7 billion in higher car prices thanks to tax credits for car buyers
Add to that low-interest loans from the Department of Energy, which Tesla – now worth more than $ 1 trillion thanks to investor faith rather than sales – has since repaid.