Democrats struggle to find uniform inflation plan amid competing ambitions

Democrats are struggling to come up with a comprehensive plan to combat inflation, as Americans continue to be plagued by shrinking paychecks and higher prices.

Congressional Democrats and the White House have taken a piecemeal approach to the topic, proposing myriad solutions with little uniformity or consistency.

President Biden, for instance, is urging Congress to restart negotiations on his $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate-change package. Administration officials say the legislation, which died last year because of Democratic opposition, will go a long way to combating inflation.

“The president continues to bring up [the Build Back Better Act] up because as we talk about the impact of inflation, which most people experience in their daily lives as rising costs, one of the ways we can address that is by passing legislation that will help lower costs,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

While Mr. Biden touts Build Back Better, congressional Democrats are pushing their pet solutions to inflation, everything from suspending the federal gasoline tax to re-upping the expanded child care tax credit.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, says that fixing the supply chain crisis will go a long way to stemming the rise in prices.

“Congestion at ports and increased shipping costs pose unique challenges for U.S. exporters, who have seen the price of shipping containers increase four-fold in just two years,” said Ms. Klobuchar, who is backing a bipartisan bill to remedy the crisis.

Democrats are not convinced, however. Lawmakers have continued to introduce proposals targeted at inflation in one industry, rather than the economy as a whole.

Two such lawmakers, Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, say an overhaul of prescription drug pricing is direly needed as inflation swells and the coronavirus lingers.

“I also think we need to do everything we can to reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” Mr. Warnock said. “We need to deal with the ways in which there are some corporate actors who seem to be exploiting this pandemic.”

Similarly, a group of vulnerable Democratic senators is championing legislation to suspend the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax until Jan. 1. The lawmakers say the gas tax holiday will provide needed relief from rising gasoline prices, which have jumped roughly a dollar per gallon in the last year.

“We need to continue to think creatively about how we can find new ways to bring down costs, and this bill would do exactly that, making a tangible difference for workers and families,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat facing a tough reelection race this year.

The lawmakers have continued to push for the bill, despite budget experts arguing it would create inflation by spurring demand for gasoline, likely causing prices to skyrocket.

As some Democrats have run to embrace solutions to rising prices, others have been quick to cast blame. Some, like Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, say the rise in prices impacting consumers results largely from corporate greed.

“There is more to these price spikes – some businesses are simply price gouging consumers,” said Mr. Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “These outrageous actions have been constant throughout the pandemic, evolving with each phase and disproportionately harming the most vulnerable when they can least afford it.”  

The back and forth among Democrats comes as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that inflation soared by 7.5% over the past year. The climb in prices is the steepest since 1982.

Republicans say the Democrats’ approach indicates they are not serious about combating inflation, but only saving their political prospects ahead of a tough midterm election.

“Evidently they have looked at some polling data and realized the impact that this is having on the American people and what the American people think about their leadership as a result of that,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

GOP lawmakers pointed to the nearly $5.7 trillion in coronavirus relief that Congress has passed since in recent years as responsible for inflation. They say that rather than proposing spending cuts and other anti-inflationary measures, Mr. Biden and Democrats are “doubling down.”

“There solution is to double down and spend another $5 trillion, flood the zone with even more money, have more dollars chasing fewer goods and see inflation continue to spike,” said Mr. Thune.

Republicans say that on top of cutting federal spending that is overheating the economy, Democrats should expand domestic energy exploration to lower gasoline and home-heating oil prices and curb COVID-19 restrictions to boost small businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer pushed back on the characterization that Democrats were struggling to offer a comprehensive plan on inflation.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, claimed that while his party was offering various solutions, Republicans were offering none.

“Republicans seem to have no solutions, just rhetoric,” he said. “Our Republican colleagues seem more comfortable giving speeches that go on and on about rising costs, without offering any solutions. Complaining about the problem doesn’t make inflation better; proposing solutions does.”

Mr. Schumer added that Democrats would work over the coming weeks to streamline their divergent proposals into a more unified agenda on inflation.

“We’re going to focus and we’re going to come up with caucus agreement on those ideas,” he said. “Not everyone will agree with each idea, but there’ll be large buy-in and you’ll hear a lot about this from us as we move on.”

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