President Biden’s blame-Putin strategy on inflation is deeply flawed, experts say, because casting blame does not relieve Mr. Biden and his Democrats of responsibility to fix the problem.
With the midterm elections roughly six months away, Mr. Biden is hoping voters will go along with blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin, and not him, for sky-high gas and food prices. He’s dubbed the increase “Putin’s Price Hike,” a theme he’s been hammering since before the Ukraine war began in February.
Experts say the move makes Mr. Biden and Democrats look powerless to get a handle on the problem.
“By demonizing Putin, Biden is emphasizing his own impotence in confronting rising prices,” said Robert Rowland, who teaches presidential rhetoric at the University of Kansas. “There is just very little Mr. Biden can do in the short term that will have a dramatic event.”
Mr. Biden on Wednesday acknowledged that inflation was “unacceptably high,” after a Labor Department report showed inflation continued to climb in April. He vowed that bringing it down is his “top economic priority.”
But the president also deflected blame for rising food prices during a visit to a family farm in Illinois, pointing a finger at Mr. Putin.
“America is fighting on two fronts. At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it’s helping Ukrainians defend their democracy and feeding those who are left hungry because Russian atrocities exist,” Mr. Biden said. “The American farmers understand the war has cut off critical sources of food.”
Mr. Biden’s comments came just hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed inflation continuing to climb, pushing consumers to the brink.
The Consumer Price Index, a key measure of inflation, increased 8.3% in April from one year earlier. It was also much higher than the 8.1% increase Wall Street analysts forecasted.
Wednesday’s report represented a slight dip in prices from an 8.5% gain in March, but still near the highest level since 1982.
Removing volatile food and energy prices, core consumer prices surged 6.2% in April compared to the previous year. That topped Wall Street expectations for a 6% increase, dashing hopes that inflation had peaked.
The price gains also mean that workers continue to lose ground. Real wages adjusted for inflation dropped by 0.1% last month, despite a 0.3% increase in average hourly earnings.
Over the past year, real earnings have dropped 2.6%, even though average hourly earnings are up 5.5%.
Food and energy prices, which were not reflected in the survey also continue to soar. Gas prices reached a record $4.40 per gallon on Wednesday, according to auto group AAA, and food prices are up 9.4% over the past 12 months through April, the Labor Department said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden warned that inflation could get worse before it gets better, hoping Americans will just accept that high prices are an indirect cost of fighting for Ukrainians’ freedom.
He also defended his policies from Republicans’ criticism that his rampant spending plans are causing economic calamity.
“I think our policies have helped, not hurt. Think about what they say. The vast majority of the economists think that this is going to be a real tough problem to solve. But it’s not because of spending,” he said.
During that speech, Mr. Biden said inflation was the fault of Mr. Putin, Republican lawmakers, and the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offered no new ideas to roll back prices.
Even while touting his policies, Mr. Biden couldn’t resist pointing fingers. He noted that he had allowed gas companies to increase the amount of ethanol in fuel blends this summer, but slammed companies for price gouging.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden rolled out initiatives to help reduce costs for farmers but spent a portion of his time blasting meat companies, accusing them of squeezing farmers to pad profits.
Mr. Rowland said there are steps available to curb rising prices, but Mr. Biden is unlikely to use those options because it runs the risk of offending the progressive Democrats and their climate agenda.
For example, Mr. Biden could pause the $0.18 per gallon federal gasoline tax, known as a gas tax holiday. Democrats say the move would result in less than $3.00 in savings for the average consumer and deplete the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the nation’s infrastructure needs. Revenue from the gas tax is deposited into the fund.
Mr. Biden could also ramp up oil drilling to bring down gas prices, but it takes a couple of years for production to rise once a new lease is issued, thus failing to address consumers’ immediate needs.
“He’s caught between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. Rowland said. “Bill Clinton could have done what Biden can’t do, which is open up drilling, but progressives were not as important to Democrats back then as they are now.”
Republicans say there is a lot more Mr. Biden could do. For starters, they say, he could lower taxes and reduce government spending, which he has sought to increase.
“The president had a chance to present a serious plan to actually tackle soaring prices. Instead, he continues to play the blame game and doubles down on reckless spending and higher taxes. Democrats’ woke policies are leaving American families feeling broke,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also scolded the president for shirking responsibility for rising prices.
“Inflation is out of control with another gas price record hit today, yet Biden continues to lie to Americans and refuses to take responsibility for his failed agenda,” she said. “Biden and Democrats’ reckless spending created the highest inflation in 40 years, and Americans are paying the price. Skyrocketing prices, Biden’s gas hike, and the deteriorating economy are on the ballot in November, and voters know Biden and Democrats are to blame.”
So far voters aren’t buying Mr. Biden’s argument, holding him and Democrats responsible for the soaring prices.
An Investors Daily/TIPP poll released Monday found that the president’s approval rating has dropped to 38%, with 47% of voters disapproving of his performance.
The poll found that Americans are increasingly concerned about his handling of the economy. It showed 47% of respondents disapproved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy, while just 29% approved. The same poll last month showed Mr. Biden’s economic disapproval at 44% and approval at 33%
“Biden’s talking about ‘Putin’s price hike,’ but that’s not where Americans are placing the blame for the cost of inflation,” said Micah Roberts, a pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. “It’s a political talking point that just doesn’t match where Americans are.”
“The point is that the economy is an albatross and it’s not getting better,” he said. “Whether it’s the war with Russia, or supply chain issues, the economy is not good and people are feeling it.”
Time appears to be running out for Mr. Biden in the Democrats to avoid massive losses in the November midterms if they don’t fix the economy.
The Investors Business Daily/TIPP poll found that just 18% of respondents said their wages had kept up with inflation, compared with 51% who said their wages had not matched the pace of inflation.