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Why is White House painting inflation and supply disruption as minor problems?

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 10/21/2021 Sarah Westwood
Jen Psaki wearing a blue shirt © Provided by Washington Examiner

Inflation and significant disruptions to the supply chains that bring goods into the United States have driven up prices for almost every product Americans use — but the Biden administration has worked to frame the problems as minor inconveniences that will soon pass.

President Joe Biden’s aides have shifted their messaging repeatedly since the spring, moving from claims that inflation would not occur or be transitory, to acknowledgments of higher prices that minimize the impact on average families.

Biden’s approval ratings have slipped in the meantime, and polls suggest voters are increasingly holding his administration responsible for worsening economic conditions.

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“It is partially correct to say that there is very high demand and that there are start-up problems for many parts of a supply chain that had been shut down during the [COVID-19] pandemic,” said Charles Lipson, political science professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. “But there are also a lot of mistakes in the way that they’ve tried to spin this.”

Critics pilloried the White House in early July over a tweet peppered with barbecue-related puns that claimed the cost of grilling out for Independence Day was down.

The tweet cited Farm Bureau data that showed Americans would pay an average of 16 cents less to grill on July Fourth this year than they did last, and it quickly drew ridicule both for the paltry size of the savings the White House wanted to highlight and for the misleading nature of the claim.

Data from Biden’s own Department of Agriculture contradict the idea that barbecue supplies are cheaper, projecting throughout the summer that the cost of grocery store purchases was on the rise.

By the end of August, grocery store prices had climbed 3% over what they were in August 2020.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain also drew fire when he touted comments from a Harvard economist describing supply chain bottlenecks and inflation as “high class problems,” made possible only by unemployment being relatively low.

Klain’s tweet last week inspired mocking headlines and fueled the perception that the Biden administration is downplaying issues of serious concern to most Americans, as prices rise for goods across the board.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki deepened that perception this week when she brushed off questions about supply chain issues by joking about the “tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed.”

Grant Reeher, political science professor at Syracuse University, said the Biden administration can draw few messaging lessons from previous White Houses that have weathered inflation because polarization has changed politics.

“The county has lived through periods of high inflation in the last 40 years, more than one of them, but our politics I think was in a different place,” Reeher said.

“Having said that, historically, at least in our relatively recent past, voters seem to be more sensitive generally to unemployment and wages than they are to inflation, even though inflation certainly has an enormous effect on what those wages will buy,” Reeher added. “It seems like that often hits them more deeply.”

A growing number of voters are blaming Biden for the rising cost of goods.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week showed 62% of voters held the Biden administration very or somewhat responsible for inflation, suggesting the White House’s efforts to cast blame on issues outside its control haven’t resonated with most Americans.

Lipson said inflation could complicate Democrats’ push to pass a massive spending bill through Congress, as lawmakers have spent months attempting to do.

“Fundamentally, inflation is a monetary problem. It’s too much money chasing too few goods,” he said. “And the idea that you would pump trillions more into this economy at a time when it’s clearly overheating is just lunacy.”

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Still, Democrats have roughly a year to change perceptions about their culpability in economic turmoil before most voters will have a chance to weigh in, outside of a high-profile governor’s race in Virginia that has attracted attention as a potential bellwether.

Reeher said the duration of the issues will be key.

“Whatever these figures are now, it’s going to be a lot more important what they are starting six months out from the midterms.”

 

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Tags: News, Joe Biden, Inflation, Supply chain, 2022 Elections

Original Author: Sarah Westwood

Original Location: Why is White House painting inflation and supply disruption as minor problems?

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