Biden touts pension rescue, economic agenda in Cleveland

By: - July 7, 2022 3:50 am

President Joe Biden addressing a crowd at Max Hayes High School in Cleveland. (screengrab from WEWS-TV livestream)

“We turned a promise broken into a promise kept,” Joe Biden told a crowd of union workers in Cleveland Wednesday.

The president’s visit offered a victory lap for provisions in his American Rescue Plan, or ARPA, that will keep a number of multi-employer pension plans from becoming insolvent. According to the Biden administration, that legislation will protect the retirement funds of 2-3 million workers and restore benefits to more than 80,000 workers who already saw cuts.

Businesses bought into those pension plans to trim costs, but as participating firms folded, the funds felt the strain of declining contributions. The threat of massive benefit cuts or outright failure have been looming for years, and Ohio’s Senate delegation have been deeply engaged on the issue.

The specific funding mechanism to keep the plans in the black through 2050 comes from legislation called the Butch Lewis Act proposed by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, who was on hand for the event.

“You fought for these pensions, you bargained for these pensions, you gave up raises at the bargaining table every three years for these pensions,” Brown said. “You earned these pensions, period.”

Biden’s bit about “promises kept,” offered an interesting twist on one of Donald Trump’s reelection slogans, and whether or not it was intentional, Biden clearly wanted to establish a contrast.

“My predecessor had a chance to act,” Biden said. “But he didn’t have a commitment to you, or the courage to stand up to his own party to get things done, dismissing and ignoring the forgotten people he promised to help — remember how he said he’s going to help working class folks?”

It underscores how Wednesday’s visit represents an attempt to take hold of a political moment threatening to slip from Biden’s grasp. The biggest liability he, and more importantly, his party, faces ahead of a difficult midterm election is a sputtering economy.

From the stage at Max Hayes High School, Biden insisted his administration is a departure from “failed trickle down economics,” and that his actions have delivered for the middle class.

“We came in with a fundamentally different economic vision,” Biden told them. “An economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out. It’s good for everyone because when the middle class does well, the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do very well.”

But the president’s underwater approval ratings suggest he has some work left to do before the midterms. Tim Ryan and Nan Whaley, the two highest profile Democratic office seekers in Ohio this November, weren’t on hand, citing scheduling issues.

That earned jeers from Ryan’s Republican opponent J.D. Vance, who argued Ryan “worked in lockstep with Biden to destroy our economy,” and that Biden’s agenda has led to inflation.

Republicans have repeatedly pounced on spending since Biden took office to explain rising inflation, but the president’s level of culpability is a bit murky. Those attacks ignore, among other issues, the even greater spending on COVID relief during the Trump administration, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine and most significantly, massive supply chain disruptions tied to the pandemic.

Still, Republican Governors Association spokesman Chris Gustafson drew a straight line from Biden’s policies to inflation.

“Gas prices remain sky high and inflation shows no signs of slowing thanks to Joe Biden’s reckless policies that Nan Whaley cheers on and wants to bring to Ohio,” he argued. “Meanwhile, (Ohio Gov.) Mike DeWine fought the Biden Administration to deliver record tax cuts for families and is putting money back in Ohioans’ wallets.”

DeWine was able to afford those tax cuts, and a host of other state initiatives, thanks in part to funding from the American Rescue Plan. The influx has been so significant, in fact, that DeWine is considering paying for the state’s entire two-year capital budget in cash.

Ironically, economists at the Tax Policy Center argue the tax cuts DeWine and others have paid for with ARPA dollars will wind up contributing to the inflation they criticize.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.