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Biden Urged To Wed Billionaire Tax With Social Security in SOTU

March 07, 2024

As President Biden and his team raced to write and rewrite his State of the Union address, a pair of progressives reached out to the White House with warnings, polling data, and even edits.

Not only do Republicans continue to beat Biden on the question of the economy, independent voters “equally trust” Biden and former President Trump to protect Social Security, a notion that in more normal times would be considered “absurd.”

At least, that is the assessment of Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Data for Progress, who previously urged the White House to put the tired “Bidenomics” term out to pasture.

Now, they are offering the White House a full menu of new talking points backed up by polling to improve the president’s odds. It starts with Social Security.

“Let’s pick a new fight where Republicans can’t even pretend to match our position,” Green said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. The strategy is simple. Because Republicans are not willing to raise taxes on the wealthy, he said, previewing the argument he wants Biden to make, “let’s tie together the idea that they want to cut taxes on billionaires and cut Social Security.”

After initiating that populist turn, according to Green, Biden should stick the landing with a counter agenda of “ensuring billionaires pay their fair share and using that money to protect Social Security.” If the president says words like that in front of Congress and on the campaign trail, he promised, they’d see a double-digit turnaround. Biden has a long way to go.

According to internal polling conducted by Data for Progress last October, independent voters split 31% to 30% between Biden and former President Trump when asked who they trust more to protect Social Security benefits. Among non-college educated voters, the numbers are even worse: 41% prefer Trump over 35% who picked Biden on the issue.

But the progressives brought new, more optimistic polling to the White House. According to a survey conducted in January, Biden can go from losing to Trump 45% to 47% to winning 49% to 42%. How? One simple switch per the memo they shared with Biden’s team: “President Biden and Democrats want to increase taxes on billionaires and protect Social Security from cuts.”

This isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. Biden ran on both issues in 2020, and the president has adopted this kind of framing before, most recently when he was in Las Vegas last month. “Instead of protecting Social Security and Medicare like I am,” he told a group of supporters, “Trump and his MAGA friends want to give another multibillion-dollar tax cut to the super-wealthy.”

Green and company insist they aren’t remaking the wheel so much as they’re yoking together two of Biden’s favorite hobby horses. But Republicans might not be so easily cowed on Social Security as they were in years past.

During his last address to Congress, Biden called out “some Republicans” who want “Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” The chamber erupted with boos from the right. “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” Biden pivoted as members of both parties cheered. “We’ve got unanimity.”

Trump may have done more to shift the debate on the right, though. He borrowed Democratic talking points to pillory Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “a wheelchair over the cliff kind of guy” for voting with former House Speaker Paul Ryan to reform entitlements. DeSantis later joined Trump in vowing not to “mess with” Social Security.

More than anything, the progressives argue for reframing the terms of the debate, and they especially don’t want Biden to borrow any vocabulary from economists. Even when presented with quotes from economists showing inflation and unemployment going down, voters still say the economy isn’t working for them.

“We just cannot keep talking about inflation and unemployment rates when that’s not what people are thinking about,” Green said. Biden should ditch macroeconomic verbiage and go micro. Their recommendation: Talk about the price of gas, the price of groceries, and the price of prescriptions.

This kind of targeted conversation may suit Biden, who has gone after corporations for high prices on everything from packaged meat to concert tickets. Green and company want more of that to blunt the advantage Republicans currently enjoy on the economy.

According to their polling conducted in February, when asked if they trust Democrats or Republicans more on the economy, Biden’s party loses by six percentage points, 38-44%. Again, the progressives believe proper framing can get the president out of a jam.

After telling voters that “Democrats support increasing Social Security benefits, increasing taxes on billionaires, and cracking down on corporations that improperly jack up the price of gas, groceries, bank fees, and prescription drug prices,” the numbers flipped. In that light, Democrats suddenly led Republicans 45% to 40%.

The White House has received plenty of advice from allies and outside well-wishers. This year, they may be especially receptive. The State of the Union could easily attract the largest audience Biden enjoys between now and Election Day, and for the first time in his presidential career, he trails his predecessor in the polls.

With a little reframing, Green and company believe Biden can turn that around.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
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