WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden sharply criticized former President Donald Trump's "MAGA" movement as extreme on Wednesday while touting his Democratic administration's efforts to reduce the U.S. deficit, which rose under his Republican predecessor.
In what could be a preview of a midterm campaign speech, Biden took aim at what he dubbed "MAGA" Republicans, whom he charged with protecting billionaires at the expense of working class Americans while only paying lip-service to budget responsibility.
MAGA is a reference to Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again."
Biden, suffering from low approval ratings, is increasingly going on the attack against Republicans ahead of the November midterm elections, which will determine which party controls the House of Representatives and Senate.
Biden has criticized a Florida law, signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, that bans public school teachers from classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity and his administration is preparing for a Supreme Court ruling that could overturn a landmark 1973 decision on abortion rights.
"What are the next things that are going to be attacked? Because this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that's existed in American history -- in recent American history," he said.
Republicans have blamed a historic rise in inflation on Biden and his fellow Democrats. Some experts have linked inflation to government spending to safeguard workers and the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as global supply constraints.
Biden noted that the annual deficit was going down. Revenue has increased as the economy emerges from the pandemic and winding down of COVID emergency spending. He noted that the deficit never declined under Trump.
"The bottom line is the deficit went up every year under my predecessor, before the pandemic and during the pandemic. And it’s gone down both years since I’ve been here," he said.
Biden took aim at Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott's economic plan, saying it would raise taxes on 75 million Americans, most of whom make less than $100,000 a year. Scott is leading Republican efforts to get Republicans elected to the Senate.
"Let me tell you about this Ultra-MAGA Agenda. It’s extreme, as most MAGA things are," he said. "I don’t want to hear Republicans talk about deficits and their Ultra-MAGA Agenda. I want to hear about fairness. I want to hear about decency."
Scott said he planned to cut taxes and scoffed at Biden's comments on the deficit. "He reduced the amount of the deficit. We’re still running a big deficit," Scott said.
The Republican National Committee said nothing Biden had done reduced the deficit and said his legislative plans, if passed, would increase it.
The United States has reported budget deficits every year since 2001. Beginning in 2016, increases in spending on Social Security, healthcare and interest on federal debt have outpaced the growth of federal revenue.
In the past few years, the annual deficit has ballooned to around $3 trillion due to pandemic spending and loss of revenue. In 2017, Republicans ushered in a massive tax-cut bill under Trump that by some estimates has added more than $1 trillion to the debt.
"The previous administration increased the deficit every year it was in office in part because of its reckless $2 trillion tax cut. I know you're tired of hearing me saying that but a $2-trillion tax cut that was not paid for," Biden said.
Trump supporters have pointed to historically low unemployment during his administration and record highs in the stock market.
Biden noted that the budget deficit fell by more than $350 billion in his first year and is projected to fall by more than $1.5 trillion this year – the largest annual deficit reduction on record and upwardly revised from the $1.3 trillion projected in the president's budget released earlier this year.
The Treasury Department also estimates it will pay down the national debt this quarter for the first time since 2016.
Biden is still seeking a nearly $2-trillion bill to expand the social safety net and tackle climate change, but Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has effectively blocked it, citing spending concerns.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by David Morgan Editing by Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio)