Biden Spins His Economic Record Ahead of Elections

WASHINGTON — As President Biden and his administration have told it in recent months, America has the fastest-growing economy in the world, his student debt forgiveness program passed Congress by a vote or two, and Social Security benefits became more generous thanks to his leadership.

None of that was accurate.

The president, who has long been seen as embellishing the truth, has recently overstated his influence on the economy, or omitted key facts. This week, Mr. Biden praised himself for giving retirees a raise during a speech in Florida.

“On my watch, for the first time in 10 years, seniors are getting an increase in their Social Security checks,” he declared. The problem: That increase was the result of an automatic cost-of-living increase prompted by the most rapid inflation in 40 years. Mr. Biden had not done anything to make retirees’ checks bigger — it was just a byproduct of the soaring inflation that the president has vowed to combat.

In stops across the country in recent weeks, Mr. Biden has also credited himself with bringing down the federal budget deficit — the gap between what America owes and what it earns.

“This year the deficit, under our leadership, is falling by $1.4 trillion,” he said last week in Syracuse, N.Y. “Ladies and gentlemen, the largest ever one-year cut in American history on the deficit.”

Left unsaid was the fact that the deficit was so high in the first place because of pandemic relief spending, including a $1.9 trillion economic aid package the president pushed through Congress in 2021 and which was not renewed. Mr. Biden was in effect claiming credit for not passing another round of emergency assistance.

White House officials contend that robust tax receipts, which helped reduce the deficit, are largely the result of strong economic growth that was supported by Mr. Biden’s economic policies.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

It is common for presidents to spin economic numbers to improve their pitch to voters. Like many of his predecessors, Mr. Biden has emphasized economic indicators that are favorable to his record, including a low unemployment rate and the record pace of job growth in his first two years in office — a focus intended to win over an American public that remains deeply pessimistic about the economy, according to opinion polls.

But as it gets closer to midterm elections that will determine the fate of the rest of Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda, the president’s cheerleading has increasingly grown to include exaggerations or misstatements about the economy and his policy record.

White House officials have sometimes been forced to awkwardly correct Mr. Biden’s claims. Other times, they have doubled down on them.

Senior administration officials acknowledged that some officials have unintentionally misspoken about the economy on occasion but denied that Mr. Biden or his administration had ever attempted to mislead the public about the economy. They said that his record requires no overstating.

“The president’s economic agenda has given us an economy with historic job creation, faster declines in unemployment than prior recoveries, and private sector investments in new industries throughout the country,” Abdullah Hasan, a White House spokesman, said. “Where on occasion we have misspoken, as any human is allowed once in a while, we have acknowledged and corrected or clarified such honest mistakes.”

Mr. Biden’s economic exaggerations generally pale in comparison to the tales spun by his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump. The former president, whose lies included insisting that he did not lose the 2020 election and that the Capitol was not attacked by his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, regularly boasted of “the greatest economy in the history of the world” — a statement not based on any facts. Mr. Trump also said his giant tax cut package paid for itself when it did not, and he relied on outlandish economic growth projections to make his budgets balance.

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Nov. 5, 2022, 11:28 p.m. ET

Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former Obama administration economic adviser, said some of Mr. Biden’s recent contentions appeared to be the types of “leaps of logic” that were common during election seasons. He pointed to the president’s claims of reducing the deficit and overseeing an increase in Social Security payments as examples.

“This isn’t like making stuff up,” Mr. Furman said. “It’s just making a rather stretched and peculiar causal argument around true facts.”

He added that Mr. Biden’s messaging bore no comparison to the falsehoods Mr. Trump used to tell about America being among the highest-taxed nations in the world, an inaccurate declaration given the far higher tax rates in countries such as France, Denmark and Belgium.

“With President Trump, you had flat-out complete factual errors,” Mr. Furman said.

Mr. Biden’s pitch has been centered on the notion that he is leading a post-pandemic transition to stable economic growth and that if Republicans take control of Congress, they will look to scale back social safety net programs, shut down the government and weaponize America’s need to borrow money to pay its financial obligations.

But as the United States has struggled to contain inflation, the Biden administration has at times resorted to cherry-picking the most favorable data points or leaving out crucial context. In some cases, it has been a matter of presenting graphics that do not tell the whole story.

For instance, a White House chart late last year depicted a decline in gas prices over a month as a significant drop. However, the rows of plunging bars showed a decrease of just 10 cents.

Inflation has been the most slippery subject, with Biden administration officials often focusing on different measures as they seek silver linings in monthly reports.

Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, appeared to misstate the figures in an interview with CNN last month when she was pressed about why “core” inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, was at its highest level in 40 years in September.

“So, if one looks month on month, it was actually flat,” Ms. Rouse said.

The monthly rate had actually risen by 0.6 percent, a significant increase. The administration said that Ms. Rouse had misspoken and intended to say that core inflation was unchanged for two consecutive months, not that it was zero.

Mr. Biden’s comment to Jimmy Kimmel in June about America’s rapid economic growth being the fastest in the world was contradicted by an International Monetary Fund report in July that showed several countries in Europe and Asia were growing faster than the United States this year. The fund predicted at the time that the United States would grow at a sluggish 2.3 percent in 2022 and further downgraded its outlook last month. In this case, the administration said that Mr. Biden was referring to the pace of America’s recovery from the pandemic compared to other major economies.

The more recent presidential pronouncement at a forum in October that the student debt relief program passed Congress was perhaps the most head-scratching. It was starkly at odds with the reality that Mr. Biden rolled out the initiative through executive action and that it was being challenged in the courts. A White House official said that Mr. Biden was referring to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which did not include student debt relief.

And when Mr. Biden said in September gas prices were averaging below $2.99 a gallon in 41 states and the District of Columbia, they were actually $1 higher. The White House corrected the transcript of his remarks.

The Social Security misstep has been portrayed across the spectrum as the biggest blunder.

The suggestion by Mr. Biden that the increase in the Social Security cost of living adjustment was a sign of economic health drew bewilderment from Democrats and scorn from Republicans after the White House reinforced the point in a Twitter post from its account on Tuesday.

“The only thing the White House can take credit for is the historic inflation that led to the need to increase Social Security payments,” Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee said in a statement.

By Wednesday afternoon, the White House had deleted the tweet.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, tried to explain its removal by saying that the message was lacking crucial information about other ways older Americans were saving money through lower Medicare premiums.

“Look, the tweet was not complete,” she said. “Usually when we put out a tweet we post it with context, and it did not have that context.”