Syndicated columnist Byron York: Even if inflation was inevitable, Democrats made it worse
President Biden likes to blame inflation on the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine -- or, as he says, "Putin's price hike." But the fact is, Biden's own actions, and those of his party, have also contributed significantly to the rise in the cost of living that is making it harder and harder for many Americans to make ends meet. And that rise, in turn, is feeding a terrible pessimism among Americans about the state of the country.
Even some liberal commentators are admitting that Biden and Capitol Democrats fed inflation by passing enormous spending bills, measures that provided far more stimulus to the economy that it needed. That was certainly true of the giant $1.9 "COVID relief" bill called the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by Biden on March 11, 2021. The left-leaning website Vox recently published a story with the headline, "Biden's American Rescue Plan worsened inflation. The question is how much."
The answer that Vox gave was -- a lot. "Inflation has been happening across the world, caused by pandemic-related disruptions and exacerbated this year by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's COVID-19 lockdowns," Vox said. "But regarding the exact amount of inflation, the U.S. stands out. And it started to stand out shortly after President Biden took office. The U.S. did a lot more stimulus than these other countries, and now it's seeing a lot more core inflation."
"We put gasoline on the fire," Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget told Vox. "That's basically what the American Rescue Plan did." Democrats simply did not take the prospect of inflation seriously enough. "The American Rescue Plan wasn't the primary cause of today's inflation," Vox concluded. "But if inflation was always going to be a problem, then it's important to avoid policies that could make it a much worse problem."
The inflation that Biden and his Democratic colleagues have worsened is taking a terrible toll both on the American household budget and the American sense of optimism. In a new NBC News poll, answering the classic right track-wrong track question, 75% of respondents said they believe the country is on the wrong track. Just 16% said the country is headed in the right direction. That 75% is the highest number since the terrible days of the economic collapse in 2008. And the 16% is the lowest since the same time.
The situation has sent Biden's job approval rating even lower -- 39% among all Americans, and 42% among registered voters. And there is one big reason why. When NBC asked respondents the most important issue facing the country, a full 40% named inflation and jobs and the economy -- far and away at the top of the voters' priority list. To give you a comparison, the war in Ukraine placed seventh on the list, and COVID was barely on the list at all. A full 65% said their income is not keeping up with rising costs. How could they not be worried?
So there's no doubt things are bad. But it's important to remember that last year Democrats tried very, very hard -- indeed, made it the party's top priority -- to make things worse. Remember Build Back Better? It was the massive social spending scheme that Biden and the Democratic Party made the centerpiece of their agenda. At times, the proposal was about $3.5 trillion -- dwarfing the $1.9 trillion of the American Rescue Plan -- even though progressive Democrats wanted it to be much more, closer to $6 trillion. Then it shrank to $2.5 trillion, and then, perhaps, less than that.
In November of last year, the House passed a bill that would spend roughly $2.2 trillion. All but one House Democrat voted for the bill, and no Republicans were in favor of it. GOP lawmakers were emphatic that passing another huge spending measure, on top of the American Rescue Plan and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which a minority of Republicans in the Senate and House had signed on to, would worsen inflation. They were, of course, correct.
Then Build Back Better got bogged down in the Senate, thanks to the stand taken by one man -- Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Like Republicans, Manchin expressed fear that the spending would create what he called "inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hardworking American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight."
Manchin took a beating in the liberal press, but he was right. And now recognition of that is coming from unexpected places. Over the weekend, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, world's second-richest man and owner of The Washington Post, reminded the world of what Democrats had hoped to do. "In fact, the administration tried hard to inject even more stimulus into an already overheated, inflationary economy and only Manchin saved them from themselves," Bezos tweeted. "Inflation is a regressive tax that most hurts the least affluent."
It's true. Now, with inflation raging, many hope Democrats will stop pushing for more trillion-dollar bills. But in midterm campaigning, do not be surprised to hear Republican candidates charge Democrats not only with making the economy worse, but with planning to do even more damage, if only they had the chance.
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