Buying stuff has become more expensive in the United States and Democrats are beginning to feel the political pressure.
The party suffered electoral losses and close calls in Virginia and New Jersey, majority-Democratic states where voters who prioritized the economy chose GOP candidates over Democrats. In Virginia, Republicans ran ads blaming Democrats for price increases.
Last week, Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, held a press conference with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to quell concerns about supply chain shortages — one major driver behind inflated prices. Their message to Americans: It would take time to get back to normal, but they’re working on it.
But some Democrats recognize that there’s a need to say more on the issue.
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who is part of the more moderate New Democrat Coalition in the House, said he doesn’t think Democrats are messaging effectively around the “real problem” of inflation.
“I think that we’re bogged down in the process of trying to get really important legislation done,” Bera said. “I think we’ve got to acknowledge the people where they are right now and I don’t think we did a great job of that in Virginia,” Bera said, attributing Republican Glenn Youngkin’s win in the governor’s race to his acknowledgment of kitchen table issues like kids’ schooling and the rise in everyday expenses.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a front-line Democrat from Virginia, told The New York Times that Democrats need to do more to address voters’ concerns about the economy.
“We were so willing to take seriously a global pandemic, but we’re not willing to say, ‘Yeah, inflation is a problem, and supply chain is a problem, and we don’t have enough workers in our work force,’” Spanberger said last week.
The state of the economy is weird at the moment. Rising wages paired with unprecedented financial relief from the government has actually left families with some savings, which is pretty rare in an economy that is coming out of a recession.
Because families are suddenly able to spend, the heightened demand has put an unmanageable strain on global supply chains that are still being disrupted by the ongoing pandemic.
But it’s not like the pandemic is completely over, either. The workforce is not back to where it was before COVID-19 ravaged the economy. Last month, traders began to worry, prematurely, that there were signs of stagflation — the combination of slow to nonexistent economic growth, but continued inflation.
Democrats got some welcome news on the economic front last week after the Labor Department reported strong gains in employment and a falling unemployment rate during the month of October, a better-than-expected trend attributed to the brighter COVID-19 outlook.
The Biden administration, namely Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen insists this is a short-term issue and that inflation will calm down next year as the demand for goods relaxes and supply chains improve.
But “hang tight” is a difficult political message to navigate, as Americans see their bills increase, and with holiday expenses just around the corner.
“I think we’ve got to keep communicating,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm.
In Congress, Democrats insist that their Build Back Better plan — more than $1 trillion in spending over 10 years aimed at lowering the cost of health care, child care, and other measures that Democrats are currently negotiating — is the answer to inflation concerns among voters.
“I think our best message on this is that when we pass this legislation, we’re going to pass legislation that will lower costs of the things people care about like child care, health care and prescription drugs,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said, hitting Republicans for attacking Democrats on inflation. “What are they doing? They’re not doing anything. In fact, they’re trying to block everything we’re trying to do to lower costs for Americans.”
“My message is we’ve got to get a reconciliation bill that helps families and lowers taxes and lowers their costs,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) added.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Democrats just have to keep their heads down and not worry too much about messaging around inflation until the bill becomes law. The proposal, which has been narrowed substantially in order to win the support of moderates, is expected to be taken up by Congress later this month.
“I understand everybody’s obsessed about the message coming off Tuesday, but I’m just not going to be obsessive about Tuesday’s election when we’re in the middle of trying to change people’s lives,” Murphy said.
Mark Zandi and Bernard Yaros, top economists at Moody’s Analytics, reached a similar conclusion in a white paper projecting the impacts of the reconciliation bill alongside the bipartisan infrastructure package. “Failing to pass legislation would certainly diminish the economy’s prospects,” they wrote.
But inflation is proving to have the opposite policy implications for Democrats right now. While Democrats insist that they must pass this spending and tax bill to curb the effects of inflation, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has echoed Republican objections by arguing that any additional government spending will only make inflation worse ― even if the bill ultimately doesn’t add to the deficit, as Democrats have proposed.
White House officials and Democratic leaders are focused on convincing Manchin of the opposite as they work to get the bill ready for the Senate floor.
“Experts agree: Seventeen Nobel Prize-winning economists have said it will reduce inflation. As a result, we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement last week.
Asked how he will convince Manchin to overcome his inflation concerns, Schumer told HuffPost: “We’re going to pay for the whole bill.”
Biden administration officials are also hoping passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Biden is expected to sign into law soon, will alleviate some of the supply chain issues negatively impacting the country right now.