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Buttigieg defends ‘extraordinary’ economy as polling suggests significant discontent

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(WASHINGTON) — With President Joe Biden preparing to deliver his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, a new ABC News/Washington Post shows many people feel their finances are worsening — but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Sunday said the president can “make the case” that the economy is back on track.

“You make that case by pointing to the reality and recognizing that the story won’t tell itself,” Buttigieg told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl. He touted the latest employment numbers, including 517,000 jobs added in January, and an unemployment rate of 3.4% that is the lowest since 1969.

“What we’re seeing is extraordinary. Record job creation, as the president has pointed out, more created in two years on his watch than four years on any other president’s watch, and usually, when you have unemployment go down like this, you have inflation go up. But right now, inflation is going down as well,” the secretary said.

Buttigieg also touted Biden’s “economic track record” in creating manufacturing jobs, lowering the cost of insulin for seniors and projects that will soon be starting due to the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 41 percent of Americans say they’re not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office — the most in almost 40 years of ABC News/Washington Post polling.

Pressed by Karl on the survey showing only 16% say that they feel better off today than they were two years ago when Biden took office, Buttigieg said the country has “been through a lot” recently.

“The president and the entire administration recognize that there continue to be headwinds, challenges, problems facing this economy,” he said, invoking the COVID-19 pandemic. “After all, the president took office under some of the most challenging circumstances facing any president in modern times.”

Buttigieg highlighted rising wages and more Americans participating in the labor force as a signal of economic strength and said that “we can expect continued improvement” if the administration continues “successful policies.”

“Part of what I think you’re going to see on Tuesday when the president’s addressing the nation and the Congress in the State of the Union is a reminder that this successful approach stands in stark contrast to a strategy that would focus on things like preserving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Buttigieg argued.

The House’s new Republican majority, however, contends that Biden and congressional Democrats have been reckless and wasteful in their government spending, citing the national debt and historic inflation that only began to cool in recent months.

With the country approaching the deadline to increase the nation’s debt limit by June or risk defaulting on its obligations, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said there will be no default — but that the White House must negotiate on spending in exchange for a debt ceiling increase.

The White House said raising the limit, which is currently about $31.4 trillion, has long been done without preconditions under both presidents. The ceiling allows the government to borrow money to pay for debts it has already incurred rather than for new spending. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump reportedly grew the national debt by approximately $7.8 trillion, which included an enormous government response to COVID-19.

Buttigieg on Sunday wouldn’t comment on talks between the White House and GOP but made clear that raising the debt limit was not up for debate — insisting that the administration viewed negotiating spending levels as a separate discussion with Republicans.

“The president’s been very clear that the full faith and credit of the United States is not negotiable. Remember, this is not a decision or a negotiation about how much to spend or even how much to borrow, this is about whether the United States pays its bills, and we always do,” he said.

He told Karl that there are “always negotiations going on” when it comes to spending, which House Republicans are hoping to curb now that they have control of the chamber.

But because Republicans haven’t “put pen to paper on what they want,” Buttigieg said, it makes it “hard to understand” where they want to make cuts.

Karl asked if it was then possible that there could be parallel legislation to raise the debt limit without conditions — while a second bill reflected a compromise on spending.

“Yeah, because one is not appropriate for negotiation; the other one is,” Buttigieg said.

As President Biden prepares for a likely 2024 reelection campaign, the ABC News/Washington Post poll also showed that less than a third of Democratic voters want to see him re-nominated.

Buttigieg gave no indication on when Biden could make his announcement but said he has been an “absolutely historically successful president and I want to see that continue.”

When Karl followed up to ask if Buttigieg wanted Biden to run in 2024, he said, “When I’m appearing in this capacity, I can’t talk campaigns and elections. But let me say this: I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team that he has built and to be part of the results that he is delivering.”

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