The White House may want the media to keep downplaying inflation, but after several successive generational highs, the “transitory” deflection and spin have crumbled. This morning, both the Washington Post and CNN cover the latest record-high CPI figure, using one of the media’s favorite tropes — Republicans pouncing, seizing, and grasping.
For instance, the Post agonizes right off the bat about Democrats’ concern that this level of inflation and erosion of wages and savings will damage … Joe Biden:
President Biden and his advisers for months predicted inflation would be only transitory, a temporary problem that would fade as the economy rebounded and as supply chain issues were alleviated.
But new data Wednesday challenged the notion of just how long the high prices will last, exacerbating the problem inflation has become for the White House with only 10 months before voters go to the polls.
Prices increased 7 percent over the 12-month period that ended in December, making 2021 the worst year for inflation since 1982, according to a new report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rise in prices for almost everything from gasoline and groceries to used cars and construction materials could intensify a political crisis for Biden and his Democratic Party.
Inflation has a direct impact on the wallets of everyday people and, public opinion experts say, risks clouding the way they feel about an economy that by other measures is stable and strengthening.
Unemployment is low, wages are rising and the stock market is healthy. But as long as prices rise, Biden could pay a political price in November’s midterm elections, which will determine control of both houses of Congress.
Good Lord. Inflation doesn’t have an indirect impact on wallets and lives. It has a very direct impact. Wages are rising but inflation has erased all of the buying power of those gains and more. The stock market may be “healthy” in terms of the indices, but those are impacted by inflation too. Furthermore, savings and fixed incomes have seen buying power seriously drained over the last several months. The U-3 unemployment measure may be low but we are still over 3.2 million jobs short from the start of the pandemic even without accounting for population growth (148.9 million in 12/21, 152.3 million in February 2020, seasonally adjusted).
All of that pain exists in the everyday lives of real Americans, and the Post’s lead analysis is how it might impact Joe Biden. Since Quinnipiac put him at 33% job approval yesterday (34/57 on the economy) even before the CPI number for December was published, how much farther does Biden have to go?
CNN wisely chooses to front its analysis without the White House/Chip Diller “All is well!” spin. They cover how inflation directly impacts consumers with a couple of anecdotes before getting to the GOP’s potential for seizing/pouncing, etc:
More than 2,500 miles east, and in a different political universe, President Joe Biden’s top economic aides were blitzing news shows Wednesday, arguing that the day’s release of the worst inflation figures in 39 years actually contained glimmers of progress.
“It’s really important to get under the hood of these monthly inflation reports,” Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. “And if you look at the change from November to December, inflation is up half a percent. That’s considerably down from October and November, when inflation was up, .8 and .9%, respectively.”
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Democratic senators were locked in intense, emergency meetings. But they weren’t working to alleviate the pressures on people like Godinez. They were trying to persuade holdout moderates to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bills. The talks came a day after Biden effectively put his presidency on the line, declaring that the most important challenge before the country is the effort by Republicans to sabotage democracy.
CNN deserves a little more credit, however. Their political analysis may start off with Biden administration spin, but it also contains a heavy dose of reality:
The reality Democrats may be missing is that people are hurting right now. There’s nothing more fundamental than struggling to feed a family. Voter testimony in Nevada recalls the evidence in the Virginia gubernatorial race when Republican Glenn Youngkin pulled off a shock win by actually listening to what voters were saying about education and the cost of groceries, while Democrats were running against the extremism of ex-President Trump. …
A sense that Washington is oblivious to the struggles of voters is the most disastrous scenario any party holding the majority can carry into national elections. This is one reason why repeated administration predictions that inflation was merely “transitory” — months ago — have come back to haunt the President. And while the economy is in many ways healthy — the unemployment rate is lower than it has been for years, stocks are rising and consumer spending roared through the holiday period — the grinding struggle of the Covid years, and the peculiarities of the pandemic economy worsened by the Omicron variant, have so far robbed Biden of any credit.
But they do finally get to some seizing:
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Committee who is not running for reelection in November, seized on government data showing that inflation surged year-on-year by 7% in December, the highest rate since June 1982, when Ronald Reagan was president and “E.T” was the big new movie release.
“This crushing report shows Democrats’ spending has pushed Bidenflation to achieve the highest prices in 40 years, killing family budgets and wiping out three years of wage gains,” Brady said in a statement.
Of the two reports this morning, CNN’s is the best by far, even if its focus also seems to be how Republicans can use inflation to damage Democrats. At least they acknowledge that inflation is also directly damaging Americans who can afford it a lot less than Biden can.
In that sense, though, both analyses are correct. Biden and Democrats will pay a big price for this inflationary wave in the midterms, but that would be true whether Republicans “pounce” on it or not. Voters tend to choose based on their daily lived lives, and between inflation and the pandemic, Biden and the Democrats are all but AWOL. Their fate is in their own hands, not in the pouncing capabilities of the GOP. They own this mess, and the bill will come due in November.