Inflation is the only political problem. Democrats need an answer.

WASHINGTON — Voters’ concerns about rising costs overwhelm all other political issues, embittering even grassroots Democratic voters in President Joe Biden’s administration and paving the way for significant losses for the party in the midterm election. November term.

“It’s tough. I mean, it’s a tough question,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said. “I think we need to make sure people understand that we know it’s real and that it really causes pain. And then we do what we can. We cannot magically wave a magic wand and lower gas prices. But we can do what we can do.

Even as the news cycle focuses on Russian atrocities during the invasion of Ukraine and legislation targeting LGBTQ and abortion rights, Republicans are advancing at the state level, and polls and focus groups conducted by both parties show that inflation is the dominant problem in the country. Figures released on Tuesday showed consumer prices rose 8.5% on the year to March, the fastest rate of inflation since 1981.

This increase is due to higher food and gasoline prices. Meanwhile, what the Federal Reserve calls “underlying inflation” has actually slowed, giving economists some hope that the problem may have peaked. But that is unlikely to end before Election Day.

Inflation is a global problem, but the inflation rate has been higher in the United States than in Europe. Economists generally point to the surge in demand since the introduction of coronavirus vaccines, coupled with supply chain issues. Conservatives and some liberals also argue that the administration’s U.S. bailout has made the problem worse.

Voters aren’t happy with how either party is handling the inflation debate, but Democrats, who hold the presidency and tight control of both houses of Congress, are willing to pay more of a political price unless Biden and party leaders can quickly stifle inflation or change the dominant narratives on the economy.

A major problem? Democrats don’t know what they can do. Biden plans to travel to Iowa on Tuesday to announce a new EPA rule allowing gas stations to sell gasoline with 15% ethanol this summer — normally they are allowed to sell up to 10 % due to pollution issues – which should help dampen demand and lower gasoline prices. He has also worked to unclog supply chains in ports and in the trucking industry.

Biden has already announced plans to release 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and has worked to fight consolidation in the agriculture industry to drive down food prices.

The White House has also repeatedly pointed to policies included in the Build Back Better program that Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) killed late last year ― giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug costs. prescription drugs, offering child care subsidies ― as many solutions as possible. But the chances of resurrecting parts of the package remain somewhere between non-existent and obscure.

Kildee, for his part, says the government should suspend the petrol tax and allow a higher blend of ethanol in petrol during the summer months. “Not everyone agrees with me on that,” he quickly added.

There was little unanimity among House Democrats on the issue. Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas highlighted the child custody and prescription drug negotiation provisions in the Build Back Better program.

“Maybe the biggest package is dead, but there are still aspects of this legislation that would reduce costs for the American public,” Escobar said. “The filibusters continue to get in our way, and I hope the public sees who is working to push these ideas and who is standing in the way of these ideas and just complaining.”

Representative Elaine Luria, a moderate from Virginia who represents a military-intensive district, said Democrats should be “very empathetic and understanding” when asked about inflation, but her only proposal was to increase further. the country’s defense budget. “I think this administration’s defense budget is totally inadequate,” she said.

President Joe Biden speaks on the economy at an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building last fall. Biden plans to visit Iowa on Tuesday to announce a new rule that will allow gas stations to sell more ethanol-based gasoline in a bid to drive down prices.

Alex Wong via Getty Images

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who predicted inflation problems, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the fiscal provisions of the Build Back Better plan, along with the release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, were helpful. But he said there was more Congress and the administration could do.

“I think this is a time when we need to look at a tariff reduction, because that could potentially reduce the CPI by a percentage point,” he said, referring to the price index at the consumer price. consumption, the main measure of inflation. “I think we have to look everywhere we can to buy things cheaply when the feds buy. We need to address immigration flows to address this labor shortage. But it’s not going to be easy, from where we are.

Summers said the Federal Reserve should do most of the work to rein in inflation, and he stressed the risk of a recession was real.

The inflation problem is hitting almost every major Democratic constituency and could particularly hurt the party’s standing with seniors, who often have fixed incomes, and black voters, who tend to fall into lower income brackets. lower.

“Overall, people say rising costs are a major concern,” Margie Omero, director of Democratic polling firm GBAO Strategies, told reporters last week.

Omero was one of four bipartisan pollsters who worked on an AARP poll of voters over 50, with a particular focus on women. Women over 50 make up a disproportionate share of the dwindling number of voters sharing tickets, and just 17% of them said they made a final decision on who to vote in 2022.

“It’s breathtaking. These voters vote. They pay attention. They listen. They don’t like what they hear, and they’re much, much more unstable than conventional wisdom would have it,” said Christine Matthews, president of Bellwether Research. “I don’t think the answers from either party are strong or clear or definitive enough for these voters.”

Polls show voters accepting some of the Democratic inflation narratives, including the White House label of ‘Putin’s price hike’ and efforts to pin high prices on greedy oil companies. raise prices when the price of crude goes up, but won’t cut prices when they go down.

A ABC News/Ipsos Poll published on Sunday found that 71% of Americans blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for rising gas prices, while 68% blamed oil and gas companies, compared to just 51% who blamed Biden and 52% who blamed Democrats. Yet only 33% blamed Republicans.

Daniel Marans contributed reporting.

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