WASHINGTON – Americans are “really, really down” after two years of a pandemic and amid rising gasoline prices but the economy is in better shape than many think, President Joe Biden said Thursday.
In a rare interview with a news organization, Biden told the Associated Press that a recession is not inevitable and there’s “zero evidence” that the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is a main reason prices are high.
“If it’s my fault, why is it the case in every other major industrial country in the world that inflation is higher? You ask yourself that? I’m not being a wise guy,” Biden said. “Someone should ask themself that question.”
Some economists warned that the money pumped into the economy from last year’s American Rescue Plan would spark inflation. Republicans have relentlessly attacked Biden for the cost of the plan.
But Biden said employment and wages have gone up under his watch, and people have less credit card debt, more money in their savings account and more job satisfaction.
He also pointed to recent reductions in the federal deficit. The drop is largely due to the ending of expensive COVID-19 programs, such as expanded unemployment insurance, and increased tax revenues from recent economic growth.
USA TODAY/Suffolk poll:Biden approval rating at 39% amid economic fears; 47% ‘strongly disapprove’
Polls show that Americans are worried about the economy and give Biden weak marks for his leadership.
A new USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll shows only 39% of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president. More than seven in 10, 71%, say the United States is “on the wrong track.
Biden said most of the turmoil people are dealing with is a “consequence of the COVID crisis.”
“People are really, really down,” Biden said. “Their need for mental health in America has skyrocketed because people have seen everything upset.”
He also blamed “the failure of the last administration to act on COVID” which he said had “a profound impact on the number of people who got COVID and the number of people who died.”
Americans were “much more optimistic” until gas prices started going up, Biden said, a consequence he blamed on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden: There’s a ‘price to pay’ for helping Ukraine but it was crucial to act
Biden said he made it clear that “there was going to be a price to pay” for helping Ukraine, but not acting would have been worse.
“You’d see chaos in Europe,” Biden said. The Russians might have continued into other countries and China and North Korea could have been emboldened to make their own moves.
Related:With gas prices at $5 a gallon, Biden tells oil companies to cut costs for Americans
Asked about the political risk he now faces from higher gas prices and whether Americans have a daily sense of the national security stakes he described, Biden said most households are just trying to figure out how to put food on the table. But, as president, Biden continued, he has to be willing to make tough decisions despite any political consequences.
Anyone who hasn’t figured out “what’s worth losing over,” shouldn’t get into politics, he said.
“Go into business, go into commerce, don’t, be engaged,” Biden said. “The purpose of public service is to promote views that you think are best for the American people.”
Biden: It’s ‘bizarre’ to say American Rescue Plan caused inflation
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently acknowledged that the relief package’s expanded child tax credit increased demand and might have caused a “marginal” increase in food prices. Biden rejected that possibility.
“You could argue whether it had a marginal, minor impact on inflation. I don’t think it did. And most economists do not think it did,” he said. “But the idea that it caused inflation is bizarre.”
In fact, Biden said the rescue plan “saved the economy.”
“It used to be long lines, people in nice cars like we drive. Lined up just to get a box of food in their trunk,” he said.
‘Paying the price’:Biden and top aides misread threat of inflation as warning signs gathered
Biden: McConnell is a ‘solid, mainstream guy’
Asked about Republican opposition to most of his policies, Biden said there are few “traditional, mainstream, conservative Republicans left.”
“And I include in that — and I’m going to get myself in trouble, and I’ll get him in trouble, probably — but the minority leader from Kentucky,” Biden said of Sen. Mitch McConnell. “He’s a solid, mainstream guy.”
Biden contrasted McConnell with “the folks from Texas” and those who are “very, very MAGA,” name-checking Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida.
He suggested Republicans will pay a political price if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion. Even people who don’t back abortion rights, Biden said, will find it “really, really off the wall” if women start getting arrested for crossing state lines to seek abortions in states where they’re still legal.
“There’s so many things these guys are doing,” Biden said, “that are out of the mainstream of where the public is.”
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