Biden tackles inflation concerns as he touts wins on infrastructure
Susan Walsh/AP

Biden tackles inflation concerns as he touts wins on infrastructure

President Joe Biden on Wednesday hit back against inflation concerns and took a victory lap for his recent Senate wins, citing a series of economic reports released in recent days that he says show his plans for the American economy are working.

The President also outlined a number of new steps his administration is taking to lower consumer costs, like groceries and oil.

In a speech from the East Room of the White House, Biden touted a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed the consumer price inflation slowed during July, though it remained elevated. Stripping out more volatile food and energy items, consumer prices rose 4.3% in the 12 months ended in July, slightly below the June’s rise. Overall, prices rose 5.4% over the period, flat compared with June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. The report came days after a positive jobs report showed the economy added 943,000 jobs during the month of July.

While inflation has increased as the economy grows along with the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines, allowing many Americans to return to a more normal life, the President and his administration have downplayed concerns about price hikes. Biden said the numbers released on Wednesday morning show the economy in recovery.

“Jobs are up and monthly price increases have come down. Economic growth is up, the fastest in 40 years, and unemployment is coming down. So I would argue that the Biden economic plan is working,” Biden said, adding that “historic investments are on the way as well.”

But despite the economic momentum, the President argued that American families are still feeling the “pinch” of increasing consumer prices. In response, he announced a number of efforts on Wednesday he said would “ease the burden on families right now.”

The President said his administration is bringing together relevant parties, like trucking companies and shipping lines, to speed up operations at the country’s largest ports amid supply chain bottlenecks.

He added that “these bottlenecks and price spikes will reduce as our economy continues to heal. While today’s consumer price report points in that direction, we will keep an careful eye on inflation each month and trust the (Federal Reserve) to take appropriate action if and when it’s needed.”

Biden said he’s directing his administration “to crack down on what some major players are doing in the economy that are keeping prices higher than they need be,” including through an executive order that he says will open up competition in the agriculture business and trickle down to grocery prices.

The President also said he will take actions to address gas prices. The director of the National Economic Council will ask the chair of the Federal Trade Commission “to use every available tool to monitor the US gasoline market and address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases at the pump while the cost of a barrel of oil is going down,” Biden said.

The historic investments he alluded to were passed by the Senate over the last day.

The President marked a major step toward getting one of his most ambitious legislative goals — a dual track infrastructure package that includes more than $4 trillion in spending — closer to reality. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan package and then early Wednesday morning Democrats pushed through a $3.5 trillion budget resolution. Both pieces of legislation are based on the President’s infrastructure framework.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, includes $550 billion in new federal spending over five years. It invests $110 billion in roads, bridges and major projects; $66 billion in passenger and freight rail; $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid; $65 billion to expand broadband internet access; $39 billion to modernize and expand transit systems; and $7.5 billion to build a national network of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

And in the sweeping $3.5 trillion resolution, Democrats point to investments in four categories: families, climate, health care, and infrastructure and jobs. Among other provisions, the measure seeks to establish universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and make community college tuition-free for two years. It calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps, adds new dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare coverage and would make a “historic level” of investment in affordable housing. The resolution also aims to lower the cost of prescription drugs and provide “green cards to millions of immigrant workers and families.”

Now, the legislation heads to the Democrat-controlled House, which is cutting its recess short to consider the resolution.

It’ll still be some time before Biden is able to see both plans on his desk for his signature, but the passage of the resolution sets up the process for Senate Democrats to pass the sweeping budget reconciliation package in the fall.

House progressives have warned they won’t vote for the bipartisan bill without the reconciliation package, and — despite pressure from moderates to get the bipartisan package passe — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn’t planning to speed up the bipartisan track.

And West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has already raised “serious concerns” about the price tag of the $3.5 trillion package, signaling that Democrats may later pare back the proposal.

This story has been updated with additional developments from Biden’s speech.

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