President Biden on Friday blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for economic woes as US gas and diesel hit records per gallon — and as high inflation, rising interest rates and fear of a recession weigh on Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.
“The two challenges on the minds of most working families are prices at the pump and prices at the grocery store. Both of these challenges have been directly exacerbated by Putin’s war in Ukraine,” Biden said in remarks near his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del.
“The price of gas is up $1.40 since the beginning of the year when Putin began amassing troops at the Ukrainian border,” Biden added.
“This is a Putin price hike. Putin’s war has raised the price of food because Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s major breadbaskets for wheat and corn,” he insisted.
Biden, who was speaking about the release of new data showing hiring slowed to 390,000 new jobs in May, cast Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, as “the root of the problem.”
The president insisted he was taking steps to reduce the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war by releasing oil from the national petroleum reserve and by allowing gas to be sold with 15% ethanol through the summer, when it is usually restricted due to smog concerns.
Critics accuse Biden of trying to shift the blame for pain at the pump onto Putin while overlooking his own actions last year to halt new domestic oil drilling and to scrap major pipeline projects.
“Regular: $4.71 Mid-grade: $5.07 Premium: $5.35 Diesel: $5.55 Baby formula: Out of stock Grocery prices: Through the roof Joe Biden: Blaming others,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted Thursday.
Inflation crept higher throughout 2021 before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
Inflation hit a four-decade high of 8.5% in March and nudged lower to 8.3% in April. But it was high as well before the invasion. In February, which included less than a week of the invasion, inflation was 7.9% after it was 7.1% in January and 7% in December.
Biden in December claimed that the prior month’s 6.8% annual inflation rate was likely to “peak.” He said in July that inflation was “temporary” when it was around 5% and creeping higher.
But Biden claimed Friday his “actions have already helped to blunt what would have been an even larger Putin price hike.”
“I understand that families who are struggling probably don’t care why the prices are up,” Biden said. “They just want them to go down. ‘Joe, what are you gonna do to bring them down?’ But it’s important that we understand the root of the problem so we can take steps to solve it.”
Biden’s attempt to blame Putin for economic woes isn’t new and he also reprises a stalled push for a $2 trillion social and environmental spending plan, even though centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) effectively killed the initiative in December, citing inflation.
“Congress has helped ease the costs for families right away by passing my clean energy investment,” Biden said, arguing for a $555 billion package including subsidies for energy-efficient homes and cars.
He also called for passage of provisions in the massive bill that would increase federal financing of “affordable” housing while paying for the mammoth bill through “taxing the super wealthy and big corporations.”
As of Friday, the average national price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $4.76, an all-time high, according to AAA. Diesel also hit an all-time high of $5.58 per gallon on Friday.
Critics often blame inflation on Biden’s policies, including his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that bailed out state and local governments, gave $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans, extended a $300 weekly unemployment supplement and extended a more generous annual child tax credit of $3,000- $3,600, up from $2,000 per child.
Biden on at least one occasion acknowledged the possible impact of social spending on inflation.
“The irony is people have more money now because of the first major piece of legislation I passed. You all got checks for $1,400. You got checks for a whole range of things,” Biden said in November. “It changes people’s lives. But what happens if there’s nothing to buy and you got more money to compete for getting [goods]? It creates a real problem.”
Biden’s stimulus followed bipartisan legislation in 2020 that distributed about $4 trillion to businesses, individuals and state and local governments during the pandemic. Biden signed in November a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that the CBO said would add $256 billion to the federal deficit, though Biden to argue it would ultimately lower inflation by improving the transportation of goods.