Up, up and away: Will rising prices derail Democrats’ midterm hopes? | american politics

In the days leading up to the release of the US Department of Labor’s latest inflation report, the White House attempted to deflate expectations. White House officials said they expected the March inflation rate to be “extraordinarily high” due to rising gas prices, largely due to the war in Ukraine.

Unfortunately for Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, they were right. The inflation report, released on Tuesday, showed prices in the United States rose 8.5% between March 2021 and March 2022 – the highest level of inflation in the United States since 1981.

The White House tried to play down concerns last year by arguing that the price hikes were caused by the coronavirus pandemic and would prove “transient”. Now, more than a year after vaccines became widely available, Democrats are wondering how to help families struggling with the brunt of inflation. Centrists and progressives warn that unless Democrats come up with an effective plan, Republicans could be on course for a historic victory in November.

The prospects for Democrats in the midterm elections were already seen as lackluster at best. The president’s party typically loses seats, especially the House, mid-term. Democrats have very little room for error, given the narrow majorities. Biden approval ratingin my 40s for months, doesn’t help matters.

Republicans are clearly aware of the opportunity before them. On Tuesday, hours after the inflation report was released, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “the atmosphere for Republicans is better than it was in 1994” – when the party knocked down eight Senate seats and won a net 54 House seats.

“Atmospherically, this is a perfect storm of trouble for Democrats because this is an all-Democratic government,” McConnell said.

Voters’ worries about inflation are certainly contributing to Democrats’ election woes. A CNBC Poll this month showed that 48% of Americans chose inflation as the number one or two problem facing the country, making it the most common answer among respondents.

“This issue is a priority for voters,” said Kelly Dietrich, chief executive of the National Democratic Training Committee, which trains candidates. “I think it will remain a priority because it directly affects them on a daily basis. And successful applicants must respond directly.

The White House has tried to deflect criticism of inflation by blaming high gas prices on Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine. Speaking Tuesday in Menlo, Iowa, Biden noted that more than half of March inflation was caused by rising gasoline prices.

“Even as we work with Congress, I’m not going to wait to take action to help American families,” Biden said. “I’m doing everything in my power, by decree, to lower prices and deal with Putin’s price hike.”

Joe Biden pledges to do what he can to bring prices down during a visit to Menlo, Iowa, last week. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden has indeed taken steps to reduce gas prices. He announced on Tuesday that his administration would approve an emergency waiver to expand the use of biofuels, and he pledged to release one million barrels a day from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the next six months.

But the price hikes the country has seen extend well beyond gasoline, and economists warn that inflation is likely to remain high in the months ahead.

Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under Barack Obama, said: “There are two questions. The first is, is this an inflation spike? But even if it is a spike in inflation and the numbers go down, what are they going to boil down to? »

Goolsbee noted that so-called “core inflation,” which excludes more volatile gas and food prices, rose just 0.3% last month. This increase was less than most economists expected, raising hopes that inflation will slow in the near future.

“It was a nice surprise, but I don’t think anyone should be wrong,” Goolsbee said. “There is a long way to go before prices, inflation is seen as a return to normal.”

For Democrats, that likelihood means their approach had to change. Instead of pretending the price increases will prove temporary, Democrats are acknowledging the reality of tight budgets and trying to demonstrate how they can help.

“The good news is that the entire Democratic Party is very focused on inflation,” said Gabe Horwitz, senior vice president of the economic program at Third Way, a center-left think tank. “We got well past that period last year, when there was a question of whether it was going to be transitional or not. It’s here, it’s real, it looks like it’s going to stay at least a little while.

As Democrats look ahead to November, strategists are urging candidates to present an economic vision that will both improve the finances of working Americans and mobilize voters.

“First and foremost, American families need help,” Dietrich said. “Second, to get more help, Democrats need more wins to improve our position to pursue these policies.”

But implementing these policies has proven difficult. The Build Back Better Act, a $1.9 billion package that included provisions to cut health care and child care costs, stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Joe Manchin, a centrist democrat.

The West Virginia senator has been open about his frustrations with high inflation, criticizing fellow Democrats who are calling for more spending as prices rise.

Shoppers purchase gasoline at a Shell station in Bethesda, Maryland this week.  The war in Ukraine has contributed to a sharp rise in gas prices.
Shoppers purchase gasoline at a Shell station in Bethesda, Maryland last week. The war in Ukraine has contributed to a sharp rise in gas prices. Photography: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

“Here’s the truth: we can’t go our way to a balanced and healthy economy and continue to add $30 billion to our national debt,” Manchin said Tuesday, responding to the latest inflation report.

Manchin’s stance has outraged progressives, who insist that high inflation underscores the urgent need to embrace Build Back Better and provide assistance to families.

“Americans are being cheated out of prices. Inflation hits their bottom line, and the number one job of any politician is to raise the living standards of their constituents,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the progressive group Our Revolution.

Regarding the mid-terms, Geevarghese added: “It will be very difficult to win, I think. And then you have the obstructionists who make it more difficult for the president and our party to win.

Horwitz said he remains optimistic that Democrats can pass a version of Build Back Better that lowers costs for families. Manchin said he would be open to a proposal if it didn’t add to the federal deficit. That would force Democrats to cut spending further, but could give them a win to sell to voters.

“You can do both,” Horvitz said. “You can have a plan that raises a significant amount of money by changing the tax code, and you can use some of that money to pay down debt and deficits. And you can use some of that money for programs that mitigate inflation and help consumers.

“It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something that could happen. We’ll know more in the next two months about the likelihood of that happening.

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