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If you needed any further evidence that politicians in the nation’s capital are deeply disconnected from you and me, this week provided everything you needed to make the case.
First, Politico reports that Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., gave an emotional speech to the House Democratic Caucus about the ways in which inflation is impacting her family. Porter described how high prices have forced her to not buy some food staples. She reportedly told Politico that it seemed like her comments were the first time the personal toll of inflation had sunk in for some lawmakers.
Second, President Biden made the questionable claim to CNN on Wednesday that inflation is “going down” after the release of the April Consumer Price Index numbers. He also met with farmers in Kankakee, Ill., where he tried to focus anger on Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempting to further his administration’s failing narrative that inflation is due to “Putin’s price hike.”
Porter’s experience and Biden’s comments indicate a mystifying messaging morass for Democrats on inflation and a deepening chasm between them and most Americans.
What’s Wrong with Biden’s Messaging on Inflation?
The better question might be “what’s not wrong?” As the title of a Washington Post Editorial Board piece put it, “Biden’s Magical Thinking on Inflation Continues.”
The president accurately portrayed April’s 8.3% CPI increase from a year ago as lower than March’s. What he conveniently skirted is that the drop was miniscule, that inflation remains near its 40-year high, and that price hikes have continued to surpass economists’ expectations.
Making matters worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that wholesale prices also kept soaring in April. The Producer Price Index, which measures the cost of goods and services to companies that produce goods, rose by 11% from a year ago, only slightly better than March’s 11.5%.
If producers are paying higher prices, you can bet your house that you will have to fork over more money for their final products.
The increases in both the CPI and PPI indicate inflation won’t return to the low levels Americans have become used to anytime soon, although a slowdown in the month-to-month increases in both indexes provides a glimmer of hope.
The glimmer, though, is tiny. Many shortages, from baby formula to pet food, are going nowhere. Disruptions caused by strict COVID lockdowns in China, including Shanghai, the world’s largest port, could even exacerbate the problems.
Biden’s messaging failure extends to his repeated attempts to place the blame for inflation on Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Americans just aren’t buying into the administration’s attempts to explain everything away with the so-called “Putin price hike.”
Why Do Lawmakers Not Get It?
Anyone who shops at a supermarket or fills their car up at a gas pump knows higher prices are putting a serious dent in American wallets. Obviously, too many members of Congress don’t do either or are too rich to care.
There’s no doubt about the latter. More than half of senators and representatives are millionaires, and recent analysis from Quartz found that the median member of Congress is 12 times richer than the median U.S. household.
While the consequences of inflation for American families may not be suffered as sharply by lawmakers, their constituents are all too aware of the pain it’s inflicting. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in late April, 44% of U.S. adults are upset about rising costs and another 50% are concerned.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey published on March 31 found 55% of Americans said inflation is the biggest problem facing the country right now, more than three times the share of those who picked any other issue. And the Kaiser survey was conducted before the CPI numbers for March showed inflation peaking at 8.5%, the highest in four decades.
Inflation is also undermining real progress on employment and hourly wages. The latter have gone up 5.5% in the past year, but even a fifth grader could do the math: With inflation rising faster, real earnings are dropping.
Wake up folks.
The Blame Game Won't Work
The Washington Post’s “magical thinking” piece calls Biden to task for waiting until now to speak more forcefully about inflation, writing that he should have done that months ago. I highlighted the problem in a handful of columns in September, December (two of them), January, and February, criticizing Biden and his administration for repeatedly minimizing the threat posed by higher prices and the shortages generated by supply-chain issues. “For much of last year, the Biden administration wrongly told the American public that rising prices would be short-lived,” the Post’s Editorial Board writes. “When it became clear that inflation would not come down on its own, the White House began a blame game.”
That blame game against Putin, China, corporations, and even the GOP is failing.
Biden and Democrats have every right to attack Republicans for their inability to propose workable inflation solutions (and the GOP has its own disconnect with the American public on abortion, as I wrote earlier this month).
However, Republicans don’t control the White House, the Senate, or the House of Representatives.
Biden and his fellow Democrats are living in a fantasyland if they think voters will blame the GOP -- or anyone else -- for the higher prices.
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Cover photo: U.S. President Joe Biden arrives for an event at the O'Connor Grain Farm on May 11, 2022, in Kankakee, Ill. Biden visited the farm along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on food supply and prices. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)