WASHINGTON — Democrats are refocusing their message on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill in response to inflation concerns from voters and key centrist lawmakers as Congress nears final votes on the massive spending package.
The White House and Democratic leaders have rebranded the legislation as an antidote to widespread price hikes, arguing it would reduce the cost of prescription drugs, child care and overall education expenses for families.
“Want to fight inflation? Support building back better,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Tuesday.
The measure calls for spending $1.75 trillion over a decade on various Democratic priorities, from health care subsidies to clean energy. It would give the government the power to negotiate the prices of certain drugs, subsidize childcare and extend cash payments to most parents of children under 18.
Democrats aim to cover the cost of the social safety nets package through corporate taxes and more money for IRS enforcement. They also insist the legislation would be fully paid for before a Congressional Budget Office analysis expected this week.
But some moderate Democrats say they’re more concerned that rising costs are hitting many sectors of the economy.
Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who has been sounding the inflation alarm for months, declined to comment on Monday whether the legislation addresses his concerns.
He told reporters that “everyone sees” the impacts of rising inflation. “There’s no one pushing back saying, ‘Oh, it’s just a fluke, it’ll pass in no time,'” Manchin said of his fellow Democrats. “We are past that.”
Consumer prices jumped 6.2% last month, the biggest surge in inflation in more than 30 years. About half of Americans overall blame Biden for rising costs, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week.
Republicans, meanwhile, seek to create political pain for Democrats over inflation and other economic concerns. They continued to argue on Tuesday that the legislation would make inflation worse, citing climate policies they said would increase fossil fuel energy costs.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, predicted inflation would eventually haunt Democrats.
“It’s going to be devastating for them,” Scott said. “It’s devastating for poor families and people on fixed incomes. It’s really going to hurt Democrats.”
Democrats consistently cite a letter from 17 Nobel laureates in economics who say the Build Back Better Bill would “ease long-term inflationary pressures” by investing in economic capacity and pushing Americans to “participate in a meaningful way.” productive to the economy”.
They also point to recent remarks by Larry Summers, a top economist in the Clinton and Obama administrations, who told CNN on Sunday that better infrastructure and reconstruction plans should not make inflation worse. He argued that unlike March’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, the other two bills “have tax increases that cover expenses and also include significant public investments. that will increase the economy’s potential to produce more, which in turn leads to new tax revenue.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Summers’ analysis, which criticized some of Biden’s proposals, such as the Covid-19 bailout, was “the most encouraging report I have had. heard” when it comes to allaying fears about the bill and inflation.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said provisions such as reducing the cost of prescription drug prices “help ease inflationary pressures.” He said his billionaire tax proposal would be “money in the coffers of the federal government.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said inflation is “a legitimate concern” that is “addressed” in the Build Back Better package with proposals to cut health care and education costs .
“We think there are provisions there that would address people’s concerns,” he said.
In the House, which could vote on the social safety net bill as soon as this week, Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Cited money for housing and child care as money cutters costs.
“I spoke to a restaurant owner who hired someone, and they said they couldn’t afford to live near the restaurant, so they can’t take this job. Housing is a real issue Child care is an issue, so Build Back Better plays a key role,” said DelBene, chair of the moderate New Democrat coalition.
Some economists, however, doubt the proposal will support near-term inflation.
“I just think we’re kidding ourselves if we think – OK, you pass a law like this, it takes time to implement, it takes time for programs to be put in place, for changes to be made — that this is going to fix the inflation we’re dealing with, here and now at the end of 2021,” said David Beckworth, senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Beckworth argued that the $1.75 trillion measure would not tip the balance either way.
“If you look at what’s really driving inflation today…I think it’s much more of a pure pandemic effect,” he said. “He’s driven by a shift in consumer habits caused by the pandemic. And when the pandemic ends, those things are going to fade.”