US President Joe Biden, who has been pressured to tame high inflation, told Americans on Tuesday that he understands what they are grappling with and that he and the US Federal Reserve are working to resolve the key problem weighing on his administration.
“They’re frustrated,” Biden said of Americans paying more across the board for goods and services. “I don’t blame them.”
With a spike in inflation that has pushed annual consumer prices more than eight percent, the president emphasized his release of oil from strategic petroleum reserves and pressure on companies to return record-high profits to consumers in the form of lower prices.
“I know that inflation hurts families across America,” Biden said in a speech from the White House. “I want every American to know that I take inflation very seriously and that it is my top domestic priority.”
Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with supply chain problems and Russia’s war on Ukraine, are responsible for the inflation spike. His administration has pumped trillions in COVID-19 aid and infrastructure spending into the economy, blaming Republicans and some economists for higher costs.
“We are in power,” Biden said, when asked if he deserves the blame for the high prices. “We control all three branches of government. Well, we don’t really do that,” he added, lamenting the Democrats’ inability to get other spending bills passed due to limited Congressional scrutiny.
Biden said the US Federal Reserve must and will do its job to keep inflation under control. The US central bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point last week and is expected to implement additional rate hikes this year.
The president announced no new policy measures in the speech, which came a day before new consumer price data was expected to show inflation remained high through April.
But he did say he is considering removing tariffs on China — tariffs dating back to the days of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump — as a way to lower prices for goods in the US. “No decision has been made yet,” he said.
Republican tax plan
Biden tried to blame the inflation on Republicans, with six months before the Nov. 8 congressional election that will determine whether Democrats can retain control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Biden repeatedly attacked Republicans loyal to Trump for upholding his agenda, lamenting that the majority of Democrats in Congress is not enough to get approval for his priorities.
Biden and top officials said multiple times when prices rose in 2021 that they expected inflation to be temporary, but it has persisted.
Demand spurred by government spending and the savings accumulated during the pandemic have been unable to cope with creaky supply chains and labor shortages, which has fueled higher inflation worldwide.
That has created a political problem as US consumers look down on higher food and gas bills, exacerbated by measures blocking Russian oil and gas after the invasion of Ukraine, a move Russia calls “a special operation.”
Fewer than half of US adults — 44 percent — approve of Biden’s presidency and view the economy as the country’s top problem, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week.
Republicans are working to capitalize on the issue in congressional elections by promoting measures including easing regulations on oil and gas producers and cutting some taxes and government spending. But the party has not approved a single policy document outlining the steps it would take against inflation.
Biden has sharpened his attack on Republicans in recent days, including denouncing Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ move as extreme.
“Voters know that Republican-led states are leading the way in economic recovery and job creation, and will vote for Republicans and our proven agenda in November,” said Emma Vaughn, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Biden was aiming for a “Rescue America” proposal from Republican Rick Scott, a US senator from Florida, that would include a federal minimum income tax the White House says would cost middle-class families $1,500 a year.
“The Republican plan is to raise taxes on middle-class families,” he said.
Scott has said the plan is his alone, despite his role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate Republican caucus. Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has rejected Scott’s calls to tax Americans who don’t pay income taxes and “expire” Social Security and Medicare entitlements.