House Democrats express cautious optimism on inflation as they pursue greater spending before midterms

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House Democrats have been cautiously optimistic in recent months while commenting on rising inflation, which Republicans say is a result of the party's policy agenda. 

As November ends, the problem appears to be worsening with concerns growing over the omicron variant's impact on markets. Last week, Personal Consumption Expenditures price index data showed that prices rose 5% in the year through October. That was the quickest rate seen in more than three decades.

"Inflation right now is problematic, but not out of control as far as the economists across our entire nation have indicated," Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., said during a telephone town hall in October. "Hopefully we’ll get out of that within the next half year or so."

With inflation surging ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, US President Joe Biden has drawn on the seldom-used Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat rising oil prices that have fueled the recent spike. (CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., similarly said in August that "every economist we've talked to, including Chairman Powell … has basically said very consistently [t]he inflation we are seeing in the economy right now is passing, transitory, and manageable." He cited Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who said in June that price increases were temporary.

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While the future for inflation remains unclear, it will likely play a prominent role in Republican attacks in the coming months. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said earlier this month that "Democrats’ inflation crisis has gotten so bad that Washington Democrats have stopped trying to pretend that it’s just transitory and are starting to admit that it’s on them to fix it."

"The same Democrats who spent months denying that inflation was a lasting problem, the last people in America to wake up to this reality, are now convinced they’re just the people to fix it. But their supposed solutions are more of the same absurd policies that helped dig this hole."

Earlier this year, several Democrats told constituents that inflation was rising as a result of coronavirus spending but wouldn't necessarily become a long-term problem. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, was more dismissive, saying that a constituent's inflation concerns were the result of a false advertisement.

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"Our economy is on a great track right now," she said. "I'm assuming you're talking about a lot of the false advertisements that are out there."

More recently, Chief Deputy Whip Dan Kildee, D-Ill., acknowledged that American Rescue Plan had contributed to inflation. 

Last week, House Democrats approved a massive spending package – "Build Back Better" – with the stated aim of boosting the economy. 

According to Moody's, the timing of the bill's spending could help prevent short-term inflation. William Foster, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody's, reportedly said: "The timing is really important — that money will only start flowing into the economy maybe in the end of next year and in 2023 and on."  

He added: "We think inflation will moderate by the middle of next year. By then, the supply-chain issues will work themselves out."

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Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., has expressed concern about inflation but recently told FOX Business that the Build Back Better Act would help reduce prices. Maloney chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is reportedly one of the GOP's main targets in 2022.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters before entering a Democratic House caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on Nov. 3, 2021 in Washington, D.C.  (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"House Democrats are doing everything in our power to lower costs for America’s working families," he said in a statement provided Friday. 

"The Build Back Better Act will lower costs on everything from prescription drug prices to child and senior care … the President has taken strong action to address the global supply chain backlog and lower oil prices by authorizing 24-hour unloading of container ships and releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. We will continue to use every tool available to reduce costs for the American people."

In a statement to FOX Business, Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., similarly touted Democrats' agenda as a way to counter rising prices.

"The best way to fight inflation and lower costs is to grow the economy and put money back in the pockets of working Americans," he said. "The House Democrats’ economic plan is focused squarely on creating jobs, raising wages and lowering the burden of everyday costs like prescription drugs, health care, child care and other things that add to household expenses." 

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has sounded the alarm on Democrats interest in additional spending.

"Americans see it with their own eyes: ships are stacked up at our ports, shelves in stores that are empty, and heating and gas prices continue to rise. All of these problems add direct pressure on American families’ pocketbooks," he said earlier this month.

In this image from House Television, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks on the House floor during debate on the Democrats’ expansive social and environment bill at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington. (House (AP Newsroom)

"Meanwhile, President Biden and Speaker Pelosi are only focused on spending trillions of dollars – on top of the extraordinary $2.3 trillion Washington Democrats already enacted this year – that will inevitably make each of these crises worse."

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Heading into the campaign season, Democrats could face additional questions about the Federal Reserve, which has indicated it might raise interest rates if inflation doesn't slow. Regardless, voters are already expressing reportedly unprecedented concern about the issue. 

Gallup said last week that 26% of Americans cited economic concerns as the nation's top problem. Only 7% specified inflation but that was the highest percentage since April 2001, according to Gallup's numbers.

Rep. Kim Shrier, D-Wash., suggested in September that price gouging might be behind the increases. 

"Much of the increase in prices is being driven by things like cars because of microchips, gasoline, not sure why, possibly gouging, and housing … as we are talking about inflation, I am keeping a close eye on this, the Fed is keeping a close eye on this," she said.

"We want to make sure that customers are not being gouged, and that these really are supply and demand issues. And also that the Fed assures us, all of us, they do have the tools to slow and curb inflation." 

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Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., also alluded to economic analyses indicating that inflation was only short-term.

"As I'm following this situation closely, across the board, economists are making estimates that we will see some evening out," said Spanberger in August. "That is what I'm watching for and looking towards."

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