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Opinion Psst: Republicans don’t have a plan to fight inflation, either

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in Washington on May 18. (Oliver Contreras/Getty Images)
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Psst: Republicans don’t have a plan to fight inflation, either.

Some of my recent columns have criticized Democrats’ approach to inflation, both their reluctance to take steps that could be modestly helpful (repealing tariffs, accelerating legal immigration applications); and their flirtation with policies that could be actively harmful (such as price controls or measures that would discourage companies from increasing production).

Some people have, quite reasonably, asked: What then do you think of Republicans’ plans for reducing prices?

Unfortunately, hard to say. Because they don’t exist.

Republicans have expended lots of energy and ad buys blaming Democrats for inflation. And it’s true that fiscal (and monetary) policy has helped run the economy “hot.” There have been some happy consequences from these choices: President Biden’s stimulus bill in March 2021 likely helped reduce unemployment much faster than predicted, which prevented some of the long-term “scarring” workers experienced after the Great Recession.

But there have been trade-offs. By juicing demand at a time when supply chains remained snarled by covid-19, government stimulus likely pushed inflation a little higher.

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This isn’t the only factor driving inflation; other countries are also facing high price growth, and they didn’t pass Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Rather, they’re facing the same supply-side constraints we are. A series of supply shocks in recent months, such as the war in Ukraine, has also made global inflationary pressures worse, particularly for energy and food.

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To Republicans, however, this nuanced story has been collapsed into a single damning word: “Bidenflation.”

It’s politically effective, if not quite accurate. Voters always blame incumbents for broad macroeconomic conditions, even when policymakers have little control over them.

So what have Republicans proposed to do instead of the Biden agenda? As I’ve noted before, pretty much bupkis.

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They’ve ranted about how much they hate Democrats’ supposed socialism. They’ve talked about what they won’t do — such as pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which Republicans argue would make inflation worse. (Biden has sometimes argued that this agenda would reduce inflation. My own view: It would likely have a negligible effect on inflation either way, and measures such as universal pre-K or climate investments should be judged on their own merits.)

Republicans have tossed out some red herrings, such as increasing oil production by “reopening” the Keystone XL pipeline. Alas, this pipeline extension does not yet exist so it cannot be “reopened,” nor even opened anytime soon. It was only 8 percent constructed when Biden revoked the U.S.-side permit last year, despite years of development and support from his predecessor.

Similarly, Republicans repeat the mantra “energy independence,” but it’s not clear what they mean by that or how they propose to achieve it.

Their inflation plans are hardly the only policies that Republicans have declined to flesh out.

During the 2020 campaign, the GOP released no platform, just a blank-check pledge to support whatever President Donald Trump desired. This past January, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked what his party would do if it regained control of Congress.

“That is a very good question,” he replied. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

Maybe Republicans genuinely don’t know what they’d do if back in power. Or maybe they’ve realized that their economic policies, if you take their rhetoric literally, would be unpopular.

Their proposals include, for example, requiring every American to pay something in federal income taxes, as National Republican Senatorial Committee head Rick Scott (Fla.) has proposed. Rooted in Republicans’ “makers vs. takers” mythology, this might sound unobjectionable, until you realize it means raising taxes on roughly half of Americans. (Other Republicans, including McConnell, have distanced themselves from Scott’s plan, and Scott himself walked it back.)

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Presumably, McConnell and other Republicans have not offered concrete proposals because they’d rather the midterms serve as a referendum on the Democrats. Better to leave the GOP challengers as a blank slate onto which voters can project their own hopes and dreams (on inflation or anything else).

And so, even though inflation should offer ample material for selling the public on their superior economic policies, ambitious Republican politicians are instead fighting with Mickey Mouse. Or punishing immigrant children. Or complaining about fancy ice creams and Peloton. Or otherwise waging culture wars.

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But culture wars don’t reduce prices. They don’t stock shelves. They sometimes worsen supply-chain problems, as when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) recently slowed down border traffic in an effort to own the libs.

It’s not fair, but Republicans get away without offering a plan because they’re not in charge. Democrats control the House, Senate and White House. The public thinks presidents and lawmakers have more sway over the economy than they actually do, and that’s frustrating, but them’s the breaks.

Democrats should still do everything within their (limited) power to curb inflation — and not wait for voters to realize, after the midterms, how little thought Republicans have put into fixing the problem.