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Biden says inflation is his ‘top priority’ and lashes out at Republican plan


President Joe Biden makes remarks on his plan to fight inflation and lower costs for working families during a news conference at the White House in Washington on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

By Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear


President Joe Biden tried earlier this week to deflect blame for rising prices with a direct attack on Republicans for pursuing what he called an “ultra-MAGA agenda,” a phrase he has used in recent days as a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.


Biden’s critics have assailed the president for months as inflation has risen to 8.5%, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981. A news release from the Republican National Committee on Tuesday accused him of being “desperate to blame anyone but himself for the worst inflation in 40 years,” adding that “the American people know he is responsible.”


Seeking to turn the debate over the economy against his opponents six months before the midterm congressional elections, Biden and his top White House aides insisted that “extreme” policy ideas from Republicans would make inflation worse, not better.


“Look, the bottom line is this: Americans have a choice right now between two paths, reflecting two very different sets of values,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. “My plan attacks inflation and grows the economy by lowering costs for working families, giving workers well-deserved raises, reducing the deficit by historic levels and making big corporations and the very wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.”


By contrast, he said, Republican policies would help the wealthiest Americans and big corporations while leaving working families to bear the brunt of cost increases.


The president’s message Tuesday was part of an attempt to change the national conversation about the economy in ways that Democrats hope will shield them from a punishing result at the ballot box in November.


Biden delivered his remarks a day before another economic report was expected to show uncomfortably high prices. While the consumer price index, which will be released Wednesday morning, could show that inflation cooled somewhat from March, most economists still expect the report to show inflation running above 8%.


But Biden has seized on a program set forth by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called the “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which critics have said would impose taxes on millions of Americans who pay none now and phase out programs like Social Security and Medicare after five years.


Other Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have repudiated elements of the plan, which Scott put forward as a platform for the midterm elections. But the White House on Tuesday ignored any disagreement among Republicans, describing the proposal as the only comprehensive economic plan put forth by the party to deal with inflation.


“This is not the last you’ve heard from us about Chairman Scott’s tax plan that will raise taxes,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki promised. She pointed out that Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, had praised Scott’s plan, as had some congressional Republicans.


Earlier Tuesday, the president sought to convince Americans that he understood the pain they were feeling from rising prices and that his administration was taking steps to address higher costs for fuel, food and other goods.


“I know that families all across America are hurting because of inflation,” Biden said. “I understand what it feels like. I come from a family where, when the price of gas or food went up, we felt it.”


He added, “I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously and it’s my top domestic priority.”


Biden said that his administration was trying to bring down prices by easing supply chain congestion, cracking down on price gouging and releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.


Yet those efforts have done little to tame inflation, which is running at its fastest pace in 40 years, the result of snarled supply chains that have led to shortages of goods; Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is driving up energy prices; and rampant consumer demand.


Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told a Senate committee Tuesday that she remained concerned about rising prices in the United States and that despite some predictions that inflation had peaked, it was not clear when prices would moderate. She pointed to the trajectory of the pandemic, lockdowns in China and shifting consumption patterns in the United States as important variables.


“The inflation outlook still remains quite uncertain,” Yellen said.


While the president’s ability to tackle inflation is limited — the primary tools for fighting increasing prices rest with the Federal Reserve — the rise in costs has become a talking point for Republicans and a political liability for Biden, whose approval ratings have slumped.


Republicans have sought to lay blame for inflation on the Biden administration and Democrats, viewing it as a winning issue before the midterms. Republicans have pointed to the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Congress passed last year, which extended stimulus payments and jobless benefits while pumping billions of dollars to states and cities at a time when the economy was already recovering.


“Biden might be living in an alternate reality, but voters are not, which is why they solely blame Biden and Democrats for the rising prices they see for everyday goods, gas and groceries,” McDaniel said. “The economy is on the ballot in November, and voters know Biden and Democrats are only making it worse.”


The Biden administration has blamed external factors for inflation, such as the pandemic, supply chain disruptions and the fallout from the war in Ukraine, and it has argued that Republicans are to blame for stimulus money that was approved during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has also accused companies of making matters worse by gouging prices to pad their profits.


For months, Biden has claimed credit for bringing down the federal deficit and has promoted raising taxes on corporations and the affluent, saying they have not paid their fair share. He has also blamed energy companies for profiteering without increasing production.


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