President Biden, reacting to April’s consumer price index Wednesday, acknowledged that inflation is "unacceptably high," and maintained that lowering prices for American families is his "top economic priority," while again blaming the surging numbers on COVID-19 and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Inflation rose more than expected in April, running near a 40-year high amid supply chain constraints, Russia’s war in Ukraine and strong consumer demand.
The Labor Department said Wednesday that the consumer price index, a broad measure of the price for everyday goods including gasoline, groceries and rents, rose 8.3% in April from a year ago, slightly below the 8.5% year-over-year surge recorded in March. Prices jumped 0.3% in the one-month period from March.
"While it is heartening to see that annual inflation moderated in April, the fact remains that inflation is unacceptably high," the president said in a statement Wednesday. "As I said yesterday, inflation is a challenge for families across the country and bringing it down is my top economic priority."
The president delivered remarks Tuesday, laying out his plan to tackle inflation, and drawing a stark contrast between his administration’s proposals versus congressional Republicans' plans, which he said would raise taxes on American families. The president stressed that his policies "help, not hurt" with regard to inflation.
Biden, on Wednesday, said addressing inflation "starts with the Federal Reserve, which plays a primary role in fighting inflation in our country."
"While I will never interfere with the Fed’s independence, I believe we have built a strong economy and a strong labor market, and I agree with what Chairman Powell said last week that the number one threat to that strength – is inflation," Biden said. "I am confident the Fed will do its job with that in mind."
"Beyond the Fed, my inflation plan is focused on lowering the costs that families face and lowering the federal deficit," the president said, pointing to his administration’s announcement in partnering with the private sector to lower the price of high-speed internet for low-income Americans.
"And, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit in the first seven months of this fiscal year fell by $1.5 trillion – putting us on track for the most deficit reduction in any year on record," the president said, adding that the CBO "also confirmed that the budget deficit so far this year is lower than it was during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic began."
The president previewed his trip to Illinois later Wednesday, where he said he will "speak with farmers about more we can do to lower their costs and help them produce more, lowering the price of food for Americans and around the world," and blame the price hike on Putin.
"Congressional Republicans talk about inflation, but their only plan is to raise taxes on working families, taking even more money out of their pockets," he continued. "If they are serious about inflation, they should send me the bipartisan innovation bill to bolster our supply chains and make more in America, along with legislation that cuts costs and the cuts the deficit, reducing families’ prescription drug and utility bills and restoring fairness to our tax code."
The president added: "We’ve made enormous progress in getting our economy back on track, and these measures would help us sustain this progress and bring prices down for families."
The slight slowdown in inflation last month came as energy prices declined 2.7%, driven by a 6.1% drop in gasoline (which had climbed a stunning 18.3% the prior month as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war).
Still, price increases were widespread: Food prices have jumped 1% over the month, marking the 17th consecutive monthly increase for that index. The largest monthly increases were in dairy (2.5%, the sharply monthly increase since 2007), meats, poultry, fish and eggs (1.4%) and cereal and bakery products (1.1%).
Airline fares also surged as more people began to travel: Prices soared 18.6% in the one-month period and are up 33.3% over the past year. That is the steepest one-month increase since the inception of the report in 1963.
Rising inflation is eating away at strong wage gains that American workers have seen in recent months: Real average hourly earnings decreased 0.1% in March from the previous month, as the inflation increase eroded the 0.3% total wage gain, according to the Labor Department. On an annual basis, real earnings actually dropped 2.6% in April.
The inflation spike has not done any favors for Biden, who has seen his approval rating plunge as consumer prices rose.