Biden addresses inflation, gas prices as he pitches “Build Back Better” agenda

Washington — President Biden on Wednesday pitched his $3.5 trillion tax and spending plan to boost social programs and fight climate change, dubbed the “Build Back Better” agenda, after the Senate passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

But in remarks at the White House, the president started off by noting his administration is monitoring increases in gas prices and inflation, as the federal government announced Wednesday that prices have jumped 5.4% in a year, a 20-year high. Prices in July rose 0.5%, down from June’s rate of 0.9%, and the cost of things like used cars and rental cars remains very high. 

The attention from the president is an indication that the White House, which at times has downplayed inflation and high gas prices as temporary, recognizes the need to publicly address the pinch on American families.

The president said the Federal Reserve is keeping an eye on inflation to act if needed. Mr. Biden blamed price spikes on shipping bottlenecks and the consolidation of major agricultural corporations, while Republicans blame the trillions of dollars the U.S. has pumped into the economy in the wake of the pandemic.

The president noted the bipartisan infrastructure bill doesn’t increase gas prices, but recognized that the increase is touching American families. According to AAA, the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. is $3.19, compared to $2.17 a year ago.

“I want to make sure that nothing stands in the way of oil price declines leading to lower prices for consumers,” Mr. Biden said from the White House East Room on Wednesday. “So today, my director of the National Economic Council has asked the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to use every available tool to monitor the U.S. gasoline market, and address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases at the pump while the cost of a barrel of oil is going down.” 

The president said the U.S. is also urging the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, better known as OPEC, to return oil production to pre-pandemic levels. 

Republicans have been railing against the Biden administration over inflation and gas prices, issues they could use against him and House Democrats if they remain high ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Republican members of Congress have focused on inflation as a key messaging topic. 

After addressing inflation and gas prices, the president turned to his social spending plan, insisting it’s a “long-term investment in American families” that will reap dividends.

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President Biden speaks about his Build Back Better economic agenda in the East Room of the White House on August 11, 2021. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

“The investments I am proposing will be fully paid for over the long term by having the largest corporations, including the 55 corporations that paid zero federal tax last year, and the super wealthy begin to pay their fair share,” the president said. “They will still make a lot of money, but pay their fair share. That means it will actually reduce the national debt. It will improve our fiscal position over the long run.”

The Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to approve $550 billion in new spending on things like roads, bridges, waterways and rural broadband. Senators then held a marathon session to debate a budget resolution that paves the way for the larger package, adopting the measure in a party-line vote of 50-49 early Wednesday morning. 

The House plans to return to Washington this month to consider the budget resolution, among other things, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the House will not vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure package until the Senate finalizes the $3.5 trillion plan, which could take months. The Senate went into recess after Wednesday’s votes and plans to return September 13.

The $3.5 trillion measure serves as the blueprint for Mr. Biden’s social spending agenda, and will include funds to combat climate change, establish child care programs, expand Medicare and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Democrats can pass the measure using a process known as budget reconciliation, which would not require the support of any Republicans.