What can Biden actually do about inflation?
President can address tariffs, supply chain bottlenecks
President Biden said Tuesday that bringing down inflation is his "top domestic priority" but there are limits on what any president can do unilaterally to bring down the high consumer costs that have dogged Biden's approval numbers.
Tackling inflation will take the help of Congress, which Democrats control with the slimmest of majorities, and action by the Federal Reserve, which sets interest rates.
On Wednesday, the consumer price index hit 8.3% year-over-year, with prices hovering near a 40-year high.
"The main actors who can influence inflation are the Federal Reserve and Congress," said Matt Darling, employment policy fellow at the Niskanen Center. "The President can push Congress to pass laws that reduce spending or increase taxes."
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Darling told FOX Business that Biden can take specific actions to address supply bottlenecks, including increasing the functioning of ports that are importing more goods than ever before and increasing the number of truck drivers by expanding eligibility and getting rid of mandated marijuana testing.
"There are some immediate supply-side reforms that could reduce prices by making it easier for goods to go from factories to your door," Darling said. "For example, we should reduce tariffs and allow for foreign-owned ships to transport between domestic ports."
Biden said tackling inflation ultimately starts with the Federal Reserve, which is tasked with a dual mandate: Full employment and price stability. Biden tapped Fed Chairman Jerome Powell for a second four-year term at the helm of the central bank in Nov. 2021, but the Senate has yet to approve his nomination and those of Biden's other Fed nominees.
While Biden acknowledged that Democrats are getting blame for the hottest inflation in 40 years because "we're in power" and "control all three branches of the government," he said Congress isn't passing his policies because it takes 60 votes – and GOP support – to get his plans through the Senate.
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"I think our policies help, not hurt," Biden said of the Democratic agenda.
But Brian Riedl from the Manhattan Institute disagrees.
Riedl told FOX Business that a "major culprit" of inflation was Democrats' $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that pumped the economy with too much stimulus spending.
"First rule is do no harm, which means no more trillion-dollar spending blowouts," Riedl, a senior fellow in budget, tax and economics, added.
He also faulted the Biden administration for hiking tariffs on Canadian lumber, renewing former President Trump's tariffs on solar panels and on Chinese imports and imposing Buy America provisions that will raise the cost of infrastructure.
"The President can also cancel tariffs, reverse Buy America provisions, and limit regulations that raise costs for the federal government and consumers," Riedl said of Biden's capabilities. "Finally, the President can work with Congress to break the logjam at the ports on the West Coast."
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Biden said Tuesday that his administration was discussing dropping Trump's China tariffs.
The inflation spike has been bad news for Biden, who has seen his approval rating plunge as consumer prices rose. Biden on Tuesday again blamed the price spike on supply chain bottlenecks and other pandemic-induced disruptions in the economy, as well as the Russian war in Ukraine. Republicans have pinned it on the president's massive spending agenda.
Rakeen Mabud, chief economist and managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, said Biden and Congress need to zero in on big corporations that are "profiteering" off consumers.
"Tackling inflation requires taking on the mega corporations that are jacking up prices on consumers in order to make record profits for their CEOs and shareholders," Mabud told FOX Business. "In earnings call after earnings call, CEOs are crowing about their ability to raise prices on consumers – while using inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the pandemic as cover for their price hikes."
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last month they want legislation to address gas price gouging and market manipulation sometime soon – though it would require GOP cooperation to pass.
"Enough is enough," Mabud said. "Lawmakers can start by beefing up antitrust enforcement, going after businesses that are profiteering and price gouging, and taxing windfall profits to encourage firms to invest productively in our economy."
FOX Business reporter Megan Henney contributed to this report.