Apr 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's new take on inflation: Trump would be worse

President Biden, wearing sunglasses and a blue jacket, gives a thumbs-up.

Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is rolling out its latest response to high inflation: It will be much worse if former President Trump is elected.

Why it matters: President Biden and his top economic advisers know that inflation has given voters bad vibes that have become a hurdle to his re-election — and that there's not a lot they can do to lower it before November.

  • So they're turning to a new line of attack: warning voters how much higher inflation could climb if Trump imposes new tariffs and gives more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
  • "MAGAnomics is inflation-feeding welfare for the rich that raises taxes," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates writes in a new memo to Biden allies, out this morning.
  • "Not only will Bidenomics lower costs even more, but it will also attack inflation by undoing tax giveaways for rich special interests," Bates wrote.

Driving the news: March's Consumer Price Index was full of bad news for Biden. The headline number — inflation rising at a rate of 3.5% over 12 months — was higher than expected, undercutting Biden's argument that his policies are continuing to lower prices.

  • It also gave Trump an opening to attack Biden and the Federal Reserve.
  • "INFLATION is BACK—and RAGING!," the former president wrote in a Truth Social post.

Between the lines: Perhaps a bigger concern for Biden: Oil prices have been creeping up all year — and could jump higher if Iran attacks Israel and Middle East supply routes are disrupted.

  • That would lead to high gas prices, an inflation reading the White House dreads. Voters see it every day.
  • In swing states such as Nevada, average gas prices are at $4.62 per gallon, up 50 cents over the last month. In Arizona, it's $4.14 per gallon, up 58 cents.

What they are saying: After Wednesday's reading, Biden reiterated that "fighting inflation remains my top economic priority."

  • "We have a plan to deal with it, whereas the opposition ... talks about two things," he said. "They just want to cut taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes on other people."
  • But Biden also acknowledged that March's CPI reading will delay the Fed's plan to start cutting interest rates. That will translate into higher borrowing costs for consumers for longer.

Zoom out: Throughout his presidency, Biden has adopted different approaches to inflation.

Zoom in: Economists fiercely debate how much Biden's first stimulus package, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, contributed to inflation.

  • Biden's main legislative attack on high prices — the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — included provisions to lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for seniors.
  • Policymakers generally agree that deficit spending leads to higher inflation.
  • The skyrocketing price tag of the IRA — its climate provisions could end up costing $1.2 trillion, three times higher than the original estimate — could end up increasing inflation, not reducing it.

What we're watching: When inflation was spiking in the spring of 2022, the Biden administration hotly debated whether to lower some of Trump's China tariffs on some $300 billion consumer goods.

  • Biden is expected to formally extend most of Trump's tariffs this spring, but he can still tinker with the list and take some consumer goods off of it. That could provide relief on some products.
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