By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt
U.S. President Joe Biden, under pressure to tame high inflation, told Americans on Tuesday that he understands what they are grappling with and that he and the U.S. Federal Reserve are working to solve the top issue weighing on his administration.
“They’re frustrated,” Biden said of Americans paying more for goods and services across the board. “I don’t blame them.”
With a spike in inflation having pushed annual consumer prices more than 8% higher, the president highlighted his release of oil from strategic petroleum reserves and pressure on companies to return record-high profits to consumers in the form of lower prices.
“I know that families all across America are hurting because of inflation,” Biden said in a speech from the White House. “I want every American to know that I am taking inflation very seriously and it is my top domestic priority.”
Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with supply chain issues and Russia’s war on Ukraine, are to blame for the inflation spike. His administration rushed trillions in COVID aid and infrastructure spending into the economy, which Republicans and some economists blame for higher costs.
“We’re in power,” said Biden, asked whether he deserves blame for high prices. “We control all three branches of government. Well, we don’t really,” he added, lamenting Democrats’ ability to get other spending bills passed because of its narrow control of Congress.
Biden said the U.S. Federal Reserve should, and will do its job to control it. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point last week and is expected to roll out additional hikes this year.
The president did not announce new policy measures in the speech, which took place a day before new consumer price data is expected to show inflation remained elevated through April.
But he did say he was considering eliminating Trump-era tariffs on China as a way to lower prices for goods in the United States. “No decision has been made on it,” he said.
Biden sought to direct blame over inflation to Republicans, with six months before the Nov. 8 congressional elections that will determine whether Democrats can retain control of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Biden repeatedly attacked Republicans loyal to former President Donald Trump for holding up his agenda, lamenting that Democrats’ majority in Congress is not sufficient to gain approval of his priorities.
Biden and top officials said multiple times as prices rose in 2021 that they expected inflation to be temporary, but it has persisted.
Demand stimulated by government spending and savings accumulated during the pandemic have been no match for creaky supply chains and labor shortages, prompting higher inflation globally.
That has created a political problem as American consumers stare down higher grocery and gas bills exacerbated by measures blocking Russian oil and gas after the invasion of Ukraine, an action that Russia calls “a special operation.”
Fewer than half of U.S. adults – 44% – approve of Biden’s handling of the presidency and they rate the economy as the country’s most important problem, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week.
Republicans are working to capitalize on the issue in the congressional elections, promoting steps including loosening regulations on oil and gas producers as well as cutting some taxes and government spending. But the party has not endorsed any policy document outlining the steps they would take on inflation.