Joe Biden and the powerless presidency

Joe Biden and the powerless presidency

JOE BIDEN AND THE POWERLESS PRESIDENCY. There’s no doubt inflation is the nation’s most pressing concern. All the polls show it. All the data show it. And everyone just personally knows it.

President Joe Biden will not admit that his policies, and his party’s policies, have made inflation worse — and that, if Biden and congressional Democrats had their way, they would make it worse still. He just can’t say that. Instead, the president’s reaction has been a mixture of denial, finger-pointing, ineffective gestures, and, perhaps most of all, the argument that he, as president, is virtually powerless to address the nation’s most pressing concern.

“Look, inflation is the bane of our existence,” Biden said when he appeared recently in a sympathetic forum, comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show. Kimmel was so sympathetic that he didn’t even ask Biden about inflation — Biden brought it up himself. But he had little to say. Remember that when Biden published his plan to fight inflation in the Wall Street Journal on May 30, his first measure was not to do anything himself but to let the Federal Reserve do the job. His role as president, Biden said, was not to say anything mean about the Fed.

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As for all the other, little stuff Biden is doing in the name of fighting inflation, there are reports that he knows they won’t do any good. On April 12, for example, he went to an ethanol plant in Iowa to claim that alternative fuels lower energy costs. Ethanol is great, Biden said. It supports agriculture, creates good-paying jobs, reduces U.S. reliance on foreign oil, and reduces the price of gasoline.

Recently, though, the Washington Post published an article suggesting that Biden knew it was all bunk. “Privately, Biden dismissed the [ethanol] policy as ineffective and questioned the value of the trip,” the Washington Post reported. “After returning to the White House, he hauled his senior staff, including chief of staff Ron Klain, into the Oval Office, badgering them with questions about the purpose of the event.”

Now, the persistence of inflation has become even more serious in the last few days with the growing realization that the Fed might have to intentionally drive the nation into recession in order to bring inflation down — reminiscent of the successful but painful inflation-fighting strategy of Fed Chairman Paul Volcker in the 1980s. “An increasing number of economists … say it may take an economic contraction and higher unemployment to bring inflation down to more tolerable levels, much less back to the Fed’s two percent price target,” Bloomberg reported Monday.

The Fed meets this week amid expectations that it will raise interest rates by another half-point, perhaps even three-quarters of a point. The meeting comes just a few days after the government reported inflation rose 8.6% on an annual basis in the month of May. You might have seen the many reports that characterized the increase as “unexpected,” but the fact is, there has never been any consensus that inflation has peaked, and we don’t know that now. It is entirely reasonable to expect more.

The price increases were particularly dramatic in the things people need and use most. First, food. The price of meat, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 14.2% on an annual basis in May. The price of nonalcoholic beverages rose 12%. Dairy went up 11.8%. Cereals and bakery products 11.6%. The price of miscellaneous food products went up 12.6%. And then the cost of eating out went up 9%.

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