The Biden Boom is underway. The latest jobs report, which indicates that the United States added 943,00 jobs in July and follows a strong June. It also shows that the unemployment rate has fallen from 5.9 percent to 5.4 percent. It’s the biggest monthly drop since August 2020. The political implications for President Biden can hardly be exaggerated.
For all the hype surrounding the Delta variant, the economy has essentially shrugged it off. Restaurant reservations are up. So are wages. Air travel is hitting record numbers. Hiring is soaring in restaurants, bars, and hotels. The next jobs report will give a fuller picture of the impact of the Delta virus. But as the Washington Post reports, “fears about a labor shortage could be receding into the rearview mirror as a major economic and political concern.”
Not surprisingly, Democrats are brandishing the report as evidence that Biden’s policies are reviving the economy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Under President Biden and the Democratic Majorities in Congress, millions of good-paying jobs have been created, paychecks are surging, the economy is growing at the fastest rate in nearly forty years and the share of Americans living in poverty is set to reach the lowest level on record.”
For Biden, the jobs report should provide a lift for his cherished $1 trillion infrastructure bill. On Thursday night Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ended debate on the bill, which Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears likely to support. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill would add $256 billion to the deficit, but neither Republican nor Democratic senators appear to be paying it much heed. Instead, they believe, or are pretending to believe, that it will be revenue neutral. For Biden, it’s as much about the optics as it is about the content of the bill. The White House is desperate for him to deliver on his campaign pledge of restoring some semblance of comity and bipartisanship to Washington. The infrastructure bill would be Exhibit A heading into the 2022 midterm elections. Biden, the argument would go, has not only restored jobs but is also rebuilding the country itself.
A telling sign of how appealing this line of argument is comes in a new David Brooks column. Brooks explains, “The Biden administration has moved to separate government from the culture wars. It has shifted power away from the Green New Deal and Freedom Caucus show horses and lodged it with the congressional workhorses—people like Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Mark Warner, who are in no danger of becoming social media stars.” What Brooks fails to note is that Portman is retiring, which is why he has more leeway when it comes to a popular infrastructure bill. But on a host of other, more controversial issues like immigration, it seems dubious that he or other Senate Republicans would be able or willing to work with their coevals to forge an accommodation that had any chance of passage in the Senate, let alone the Democrat-led House. The quest for bipartisanship is more of an aspiration than a reality. Anyway, as Jack Shafer recently noted, bipartisanship itself may be overrated: “You should reach for your wallet every time a politician makes a plea for bipartisanism in the name of seeking "common ground" or "rising above politics" or to “reject cynicism.” There’s nothing more political than asserting that your position is above politics and that your foes’ positions are drenched in it. As you do, keep a watch on self-proclaimed 'centrists’ who claim, as keepers of compromise, to be the guiding spirit of bipartisanship. Centrism is a position no less distinct than liberalism or conservatism.”
Still, it is a position that Biden will hug with fervor as he heads into the midterms. It got him elected. Now his hope is that a roaring economy will trump the cultural divisions that have assailed America for decades. He’s about to find out if an economic boom can avert a political bust.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.