Talking Points

The October inflation report might spell doom for what's left of Biden's agenda

The latest news on inflation is bad: Consumer prices were up in October by 6.2 percent over a year ago, so high that American workers are losing ground despite recent wage gains. That's grim news for Democrats who have lately been feeling the wrath of voters — but also because it might stymie their efforts to pass the "Build Back Better" social welfare bill. 

Passing that bill, of course, relies on the good graces of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). And while Manchin has been negotiating with his fellow Democrats to get that bill down to a size and shape that both sides find acceptable, he has long signaled his ambivalence about passing anything at all.

His stated reason: Inflation.

Manchin has been making the case for months that the government has already overheated the economy with its spending on pandemic-era safety net efforts like stimulus checks, unemployment, and other big-ticket items. In September, he called for a "strategic pause" on passing any more major spending bills instead of "rushing to spend trillions" and possibly making the problem worse.

After the latest inflation report was released Tuesday morning, Manchin was feeling some vindication. "By all accounts, the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not 'transitory' and is instead getting worse," the senator tweeted. "From the grocery store to the gas pump, Americans know the inflation tax is real and D.C. can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day." 

That's not a direct threat to kill the BBB bill, but it is a strong hint that Manchin isn't in any real hurry to get the job done. 

The problem with Manchin's position, though, is that it's not clear that slowing government spending will put much of a dent in inflation, which is driven to some extent by the now-legendary supply chain snarls. One example: Vehicle prices have skyrocketed in the last year — nearly 10 percent for new cars and more than 25 percent for used autos. But those prices are driven by a shortage in computer chips. How will, say, killing the proposal for paid family leave help that situation? 

Moreover, the rise in inflation doesn't suddenly mean Americans no longer need what's in the BBB bill — things like childcare assistance and an extension of child tax credit payments, climate change mitigation, Medicaid expansion, and affordable housing. For many families, inflation will make their needs for such help even more insistent. It shouldn't be an excuse to kill off what's left of President Biden's agenda.