Feb 14, 2024 - Economy

First look: White House cuts gag rule on economic data to 30 minutes

Biden in front of Bidenomics sign

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The White House will soon have an advantage to sell its economic message that recent predecessors did not: the ability to more quickly blast out its take on key data releases.

Why it matters: The Biden administration will shorten the so-called gag period that for more than 40 years has prevented officials from weighing in immediately when data is released.

  • Starting Monday, the Biden administration will wait just 30 minutes before commenting on a slew of indicators — including inflation and jobs data, Axios has learned. (A notice saying as much was posted on Wednesday.)

Flashback: Since the Nixon era, officials have waited an hour before weighing in on the data. Back then there were fears the public would not be able to distinguish between apolitical descriptions of economic data and the White House's partisan interpretations.

What's new: The Biden administration says that's not the case anymore.

  • A key part of their argument for changing the rule — which has been championed by Council of Economic Advisers head Jared Bernstein — is that the lengthy waiting period is no longer relevant in a time when information and analysis online moves much more quickly than it did in the 1970s and 1980s.

The intrigue: The Biden administration put the proposal out for comment last year.

  • During that comment period, some private sector responders were concerned that 30 minutes was not a sufficient delay and that shortening the gag period might confuse financial markets or media.
  • In response to those concerns, the CEA and the Office of Management and Budget (which issued the rule) found that media coverage of select indicators were "generally posted within the first ten minutes after the release, and in all cases are published and shared on social media within 31 minutes after the release."

What they're saying: The rule change has bipartisan support, including from former President Trump's economic advisers. (The Trump White House explored changing the rule in 2019.)

  • "[T]he CEA career staff knows economic data better than just about anyone," Kevin Hassett, who led the CEA under Trump, tells Axios.
  • "Before the internet, information could be very hard to come by and disseminate, and there was a risk that partisan propaganda might drive the narrative about data releases," Hassett adds.
  • "Today, a partisan misrepresentation of the data would only bring ridicule on the White House from the countless voices that follow the data closely."

The bottom line: As the White House tries to sell its economic message to a skeptical public during election season, they'll be able to move faster.

  • "This directive, published almost 40 years ago and before the modern internet, is designed to ensure the equitable, policy-neutral, and timely release and dissemination of key economic data," an OMB spokesperson tells Axios.
  • "This revision upholds that commitment while recognizing that information moves much faster in today's world and we must adapt if we want to continue to encourage robust public discourse and meaningful engagement."
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