For months, Democratic politicos have mostly pooh-poohed the surge of inflation driving up the cost of housing, cars, groceries and more. On Monday,President Biden called the increases most likely “temporary,” a short-term byproduct of the reopening of the economy and supply bottlenecks related to the covid-19 shutdowns. Is that true? Probably. Is it a good response? No. Vague assurances that amount to “trust us, we know what we are doing” rarely calm anyone.
And this subdued Democratic response has given Republicans an opening for fearmongering politics. They’re citing the specter of “Bidenflation” to derail the progressive agenda.
The issue, Republicans say, isn’t pandemic-induced shortages of semiconductors or bottlenecks in the labor supply. It’s irresponsible federal spending past and possibly future — what they call overly generous unemployment benefits, climate-related spending, and all those Biden plans to beef up the country’s human and physical infrastructure after decades of neglect.
This is hypocrisy to the millionth degree. Republicans said none of this when President Donald Trump ran up the federal deficit to give millionaires and billionaires a tax cut in 2017.
But today, these tactics might be effective. Americans hate inflation. Many fear that inflation hammers their standard of living. (Of course, inflation also has benefits, such as making it effectively easier to pay off money previously borrowed at fixed interest rates — something that anyone with a mortgage or student loan bills is likely to find useful.)
Historically, as Timothy Noah noted last week in the New Republic, voters have moved to the right amid inflation conditions. During past inflationary periods, he wrote, legislation was passed making it harder for workers to unionize, as were anti-tax, pro-austerity initiatives such as California’s Proposition 13, which limited property tax increases. President Ronald Reagan ushered in a conservative movement after being elected during a period of high inflation.
All this is why it is vital for Democrats to come up with a better response to Republican demagoguing. And after too many tepid and less-than-convincing takes, it seems they finally have a road map.
A report Wednesday from Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, argues that Democratic investment and spending plans will grow the nation’s workforce and economy. Failure to pass both an infrastructure package and the reconciliation bill that Democrats are moving forward would “diminish the economy’s prospects,” a point that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was expected to play up.
Zandi attacks the Republican grandstanding on inflation head-on, pointing out that employment remains significantly below pre-shutdown levels, unemployment remains relatively high, and Democrats are asking for increased taxes on the wealthy and corporations. What about the child tax credits that started paying out this month? They’ll offer “long-term economic benefits” to both families and the broader economy.
In fact, Zandi says, parts of the Democratic agenda, such as initiatives to get more control over the cost of prescription drugs and to spend money on increasing the housing supply for lower-income Americans, would bring prices down — and ultimately reduce the cost of living for many Americans.
Republicans don’t want you to think about any of that. Heck, they are so committed to easing life for the wealthy while letting the rest of us stew that they’ve kiboshed a plan to include increased funding for the IRS in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Such funds could be used to crack down on wealthy tax cheats and bring in legally owed revenue, improving the bottom line without raising taxes. That doesn’t exactly scream concern about inflation and the deficit.
Biden used some of this info at his CNN Town Hall on Thursday night, pointing out that his plans will ultimately “reduce inflation.” But he’s still not punching hard enough. Democrats need to remember that the best defense is a good offense. Yes, continue to say the inflationary surge is almost certainly a blip, and that if it turns out otherwise they’re prepared to address it. But first, middle and last, remind voters that Republicans are howling about inflation not because they are worried but because they want to distract us from their true agenda, which is ensuring the wealthy continue to benefit from low taxes, while stopping Democrats from enacting their economic program — no matter the cost to the rest of us.