President Biden said Tuesday that soaring inflation was “a real tough problem to solve” and warned it could get worse before it gets better — while offering no new ideas to stem rising prices.
“It’s really complicated. I’m not suggesting American people can’t understand it. They understand it, but they have, you know, they’re working eight, 10 hours a day just to put food on the table,” Biden said during an event at the White House-adjacent Old Executive Office Building.
With annual inflation at highs not seen in more than 40 years, Biden declined to predict how long it would take for prices to start coming down — then suggested they may actually rise even higher through 2023.
“I’m not going to predict that,” he told reporters. “It ranges depending on which economists you’re talking to — by the end of this year and some say it’s going to be, it’s going to increase next year. But there’s others who say by the end of this year, you’re gonna see it come down, by the [end of the] calendar year. I don’t know, but I know what we have to do to make sure that we can bring it down.”
Annual inflation hit 8.5% in March — the highest rate since 1981 — after Biden assured the public last year that smaller price hikes were temporary. Tuesday’s event came on the eve of Wednesday’s announcement of April’s Consumer Price Index figure, which economists expect to come in at 8.1%.
Asked about polls showing large majorities blame him for high inflation, Biden said, “All they’re focused on, understandably, is the problem they’re facing.”
“They get a five-and-a-half percent raise, average raise, in their salaries. And yet inflation exceeds that. And they look around the world and they know that a lot of it’s extremely complicated, and so they’re frustrated and I don’t blame them,” Biden said.
The president blamed the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what he described as greedy oil and meat companies’ price spikes —rather than government spending.
Biden noted that he had allowed gas companies to increase the amount of ethanol in fuel blends this summer to lower prices, but blasted oil companies for not drilling more while “shipping record profits to their investors.” He also touted his proposed legislation to transition to renewable energy sources, but lamented, “You need 60 votes [in the Senate] to get major things done.”
On Tuesday, the president also sought to refocus the debate about inflation on what he said Republicans might do if they retake control of Congress in the fall midterm elections.
Biden attacked Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, who recently suggested that all Americans pay at least some taxes and that all laws expire after five years. Biden said that could result in the demise of Social Security and higher costs for millions of people. The Washington Post’s fact check column, however, has rated as false Biden’s efforts to describe Scott’s personal ideas as GOP dogma.
Scott returned fire in a Fox News interview Tuesday, saying, “We have 8.5% inflation. We’ve got the highest gas prices ever. We’ve got low labor participation. We’ve got a GDP that is declining. We’ve got mortgage rates skyrocketing. We’ve got a stock market going down. So, he doesn’t have ideas. He was confusing. I’ve put up no ideas [for] what he was going to get done.”
Biden defended his own record.
“I think our policies have helped, not hurt. Think about what they say. The vast majority of the economists think that this is going to be a real tough problem to solve. But it’s not because of spending,” he insisted.
The president also claimed that he actually reduced government spending — despite enacting a pair of massive spending bills last year — by noting that the federal deficit had declined since 2020, when Congress passed about $4 trillion in emergency pandemic spending.
“We’ve brought down the deficit. The bottom line is how much does America owe, how much of the hole are we going? We’re reducing that,” Biden said, despite the fact that the federal debt continues to grow.
Republicans call Biden’s framing deceptive, noting that the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which passed last year, wasn’t offset with new revenue, nor was about $256 billion of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law.
In one potential step to fight inflation, Biden confirmed that he was looking at potentially rolling back former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods, but said only that “we’re discussing it and no decision has been made.”
Biden in December claimed that November’s 6.8% annual inflation rate was likely the “peak.” He said in July of last year that high inflation was “temporary” when it was around 5%.
A poll released last month by CBS found that about 69% of US adults disapprove of Biden’s handling of inflation. Even among Democrats, 41% disapprove of Biden’s response.