Analysis | Assessing Ron Klain’s viral claim about Biden’s achievements


“The president has delivered the largest economic recovery plan since Roosevelt, the largest infrastructure plan since Eisenhower, the most judges confirmed since Kennedy, the second largest health care bill since Johnson, and the largest climate change bill in history.”

— White House chief of staff Ron Klain, in an interview with Politico Playbook, Aug. 19

We keep seeing Klain’s victory-lap quote pop up across social media so it seems ripe for fact-checking. Let’s go through each claim in the order in which it’s presented.

Klain cleverly framed his quote. He name-checks some of the most effective or popular presidents — and then does not say that President Biden topped their achievements, only that it’s the “largest” since then.

It’s important to keep in mind that comparing federal programs separated by decades is very difficult. A simple inflation adjustment can be misleading, given differences in the size of the U.S. population. Economists generally will compare as a percentage of the gross national product (GDP), the broadest measure of the economy, or the cost as a percentage of the nation’s output.

“The largest economic recovery plan since Roosevelt”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” designed to combat the Great Depression in the 1930s, unfolded over a number of years. It included such programs as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which hired millions of people to construct roads and buildings and also patronized artists to create works in a variety of forms.

Bill Dupor, an economist and vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, calculated that the cost of FDR’s programs accounted for 40 percent of the nation’s 1927 output.

By contrast, the 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed under President Barack Obama amounted to 6.1 percent of output, he said.

Early in Biden’s presidency, Congress passed a $1.9 trillion covid relief package. That sounds big, but in 2020, under President Donald Trump, Congress approved four fiscal relief packages in March and April as the coronavirus pandemic tanked the economy. Those bills totaled $2.4 trillion. Then, $900 million in additional covid relief was approved in December. That adds up to $3.3 trillion.

The Biden bill amounts to 8.87 percent of output, according to our review of Dupor’s calculations in 2021, beating Obama. But Trump’s covid actions total 15.4 percent of output, easily beating Biden.

So how does Klain make this claim? The White House says he is also adding a bunch of other bills under “economic recovery,” including a massive infrastructure bill, a law promoting semiconductor production in the United States (the Chips Act) and the oddly named Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a climate-change and health-care bill.

White House officials say that would be the equivalent of New Deal legislation….

Read More:Analysis | Assessing Ron Klain’s viral claim about Biden’s achievements

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