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Jeff Bezos spars with Biden White House over inflation

The billionaire attacked the administration’s economic management not long after Biden met with Amazon union organizers

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin and owner of The Washington Post, introduces a new lunar lander. He battled with the Biden White House over inflation on Twitter on Monday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The White House is sparring with Jeff Bezos after the Amazon founder took aim at President Biden’s economic policies on Twitter.

Bezos, one of the wealthiest men in the world, criticized the White House’s economic record by pointing to high inflation on Friday, tweaking Biden by suggesting the administration’s new social media disinformation board should review the president’s claim that raising corporate taxes would bring inflation rates down. On Sunday, he kept it up, sharing a post that criticized Biden’s claims to have reduced the federal deficit. Bezos alleged that the administration tried to approve even more economic stimulus but was stopped by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — an apparent reference to the White House’s long-stalled Build Back Better economic agenda. Those plans, though, were designed as long-term structural changes to the U.S. economy, not as economic stimulus.

“In fact, the administration tried hard to inject even more stimulus into an already over-heated, inflationary economy and only Manchin saved them from themselves,” said Bezos, who is the owner of The Washington Post. “Inflation is a regressive tax that most hurts the least affluent. Misdirection doesn’t help the country.”

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The White House responded by pointing out that Bezos’ attacks emerged days after Biden met in the Oval Office with the labor leaders behind Amazon’s unionization drive, which the company has vehemently opposed. White House spokesman Andrew Bates also emphasized that Bezos would pay substantially higher tax burdens under the plans the administration has introduced. Bezos would pay an additional $35 billion under a billionaire tax plan introduced by the White House in March, according to calculations by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

“It doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face, fights inflation for the long haul, and adds to the historic deficit reduction the President is achieving by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share,” Bates told The Post in a statement. “It’s also unsurprising that this tweet comes after the President met with labor organizers, including Amazon employees.”

Bezos responded to that retort on Monday by claiming the administration was trying to change the subject from its inflationary record. “Look, a squirrel!” Bezos said, mocking the White House statement. “They know inflation hurts the neediest the most. But unions aren’t causing inflation and neither are wealthy people.”

He added: “Remember the Administration tried … their best to add another $3.5 TRILLION to federal spending. They failed, but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today.”

The debate came up at the White House press briefing on Monday afternoon, when a reporter asked the Twitter back-and-forth between Bezos and Biden. “Look, it’s not a huge mystery why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda that is for the middle class, that cuts some of the biggest costs families face, fights inflation for the long haul, right?” said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Some prominent economists criticized Bezos’s statement as misconstruing Biden’s economic agenda. The White House always maintained that its $3.5 trillion in proposed spending as part of the Build Back Better plan would be fully paid for by higher taxes on the rich and corporations, thus offsetting its impact on fueling additional inflation. The administration’s spending plans were also designed to be stretched over 10 years, with only a fraction of it taking effect immediately — which should, in theory, blunt its inflationary effects.

Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary who has been critical of the White House’s economic record, said Bezos was wrong to suggest higher taxes would not reduce the inflationary impact of Biden’s spending plans.

“I think @JeffBezos is mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin,” Summers tweeted. “It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible.”