Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that inflation is “a source of stress for families” due to the high cost of food and gas, but claimed President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social spending bill would fix the problem — despite doubts from centrist Democrats who control the bill’s fate.
Harris said at a press conference in France that the Biden administration takes the issue “very seriously” — adopting a new, more sober White House stance after officials for months insisted that rising prices were “transitory.”
“Prices have gone up and families and individuals are dealing with the realities that bread costs more, that gas costs more,” the veep said. “And we have to understand what that means. That’s about the cost of living going up.
“That’s about having to stress and stretch limited resources. That’s about a source of stress for families that is not only economic, but is on a daily level something that is a heavy weight to carry. So it is something we take very seriously.”
She added: “We know from the history of this issue in the United States that when you see these prices go up, it has a direct impact on the quality of life for all people in our country.”
Rising inflation has contributed to plummeting approval ratings for Biden and Harris.
Biden on Thursday even admitted that a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill helped fuel the declining buying power of the US dollar by giving most people $1,400 checks and hiking child tax rebates — though he also insisted that passing the still-pending social spending plan would fix the situation rather than worsen it. Officials and experts have also pinned inflation on a supply chain bottleneck at ports, as well as lower oil production.
Biden and Harris have framed the crisis as reason to pass the hulking bill, which expands the social safety net and funds new environmental programs — and which they insist is fully paid for through enhanced IRS enforcement and new taxes on businesses and the wealthy.
“Build Back Better is not going to cost anything, we’re paying for it,” Harris said in France.
“So when we can get Build Back Better passed, and we are optimistic that we will, the American people will see costs actually reduced around some of those essential services that they need to take care of their basic responsibilities, including issues like child care and elder care and also preschool.”
Skeptics including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.), whose vote is needed for the large bill to pass the evenly divided Senate, say they’re concerned that more spending would worsen inflation.
Manchin has said he is worried that “gimmicks” undercount the cost of proposed programs if they are made permanent, while possibly overestimating new revenue. He also said last week that Democratic defeats in Virginia’s gubernatorial and legislative elections reflected alarm about inflation and added that he wanted to tap the breaks on new spending.
“By all accounts, the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not ‘transitory’ and is instead getting worse,” Manchin tweeted Wednesday. “From the grocery store to the gas pump, Americans know the inflation tax is real and DC can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day.”
Manchin was responding to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, which jumped 6.2 percent in October from a year earlier, reflecting the highest increase since 1990 in the cost of goods and services as well as energy and food.
Meanwhile, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who served as head of the National Economic Council during the Obama administration, has slammed the Biden White House for being “behind the curve” on inflation.
“I think we’re speeding down the road at a really rapid rate,” Summers said in a CNN interview Wednesday. “It’s kind of a downhill road. “And it’s not going to be so easy to put the brakes on here. And that’s why I’m concerned.”
The social spending bill includes new subsidies for child care, home health care, housing, education and paid leave and would extend the enhanced child tax credit, which formerly was $2,000 per child before being bumped to $3,000 or $3,600 for kids up to 6 years old.
On Monday, Biden is scheduled to sign yet another large piece of legislation — a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed Congress on Friday. The Congressional Budget Office has said $256 billion of the bill isn’t paid for, potentially worsening inflation.