December’s 7 percent annual inflation rate is bad economic news and bad political news for Democrats. If consumers expect inflation to get worse, rising prices and wages could send the economy into a doom loop of even faster-accelerating inflation.

But Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, sees hopeful signs. “Today, we received new information on producer prices,” she said in a written statement on Thursday. “The data show a slowdown in producer price increases in December, relative to the month before, and the lowest monthly increase in the Producer Price Index (PPI) since November 2020.” Conceding that monthly numbers are volatile, she nevertheless argues that the December data show “potential improvement in prices for supply-chain related goods and services.”

That nuance, as well as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell’s promises to control inflation in the coming months, perhaps explains why the stock market surged after the release of last month’s inflation numbers and slightly higher jobless claims.

Inflation is causing rising prices at the gas station and grocery store. Experts explain what is causing inflation and how long it might stick around. (Sarah Hashemi, Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

Rouse tells me that the December numbers “suggest the recovery is not going to be linear.” She adds, “Our economic situation is being driven by the pandemic.” Indeed, countries across the world that supported people through the devastating initial phases of the pandemic are now experiencing high demand and insufficient supply, aggravated further by the shift in spending from services to goods. Once the pandemic abates, production interruptions should abate, too. Businesses can then increase their supply, and inflation will likely diminish.

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The White House does not see this as akin to the 1970s, when oil prices triggered an inflationary surge. In this case, the triggering cause — the pandemic — is expected to resolve. (It’s already clear that infections due to the omicron variant are less severe, allowing most people to resume work in fewer days than in previous surges.)

Going forward, the “fiscal impulse” should tighten significantly, as the government will not repeat stimulus packages. Rouse says, “We’re not in the same phase of the pandemic.” That should indicate that talks in Congress about another big fiscal package will go nowhere.

Critics have accused President Biden of “blaming” inflation on corporate greed. That’s not what is going on here. White House officials note that as far back as the campaign, Biden was banging the drum about excessive corporate consolidation. Where there is less competition, wages are lower and prices are higher. It is therefore not surprising that, in the mode of “Build Back Better,” Biden would want to focus on reducing these price disrupters.

That’s the same philosophy behind child-care subsidies in the Build Back Better bill. When families experience a shortage of child-care options, resulting in higher prices, the government has a natural role to play. Accessible child care has also proved crucial to getting women, who have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, back in the workforce.

No one should take a single month’s numbers as evidence the inflation threat is behind us. The White House is painfully aware the path to price stability will not be a straight line. But like unemployment and every other aspect of the economy (not only in the United States but around the world), inflation is being driven largely by covid. That means taming the pandemic remains the key to a well-functioning economy.

As the pandemic slowly resolves, expect the White House not to hawk giant stimulus packages. Instead, it will for look for ways to lighten the burden on families (e.g., increasing port capacity, reducing child-care costs). That’s the only economically and politically viable strategy — even if it’s not an immediate or cure-all approach.