(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden faces an even bigger battle to enact his spending proposals and retain his party’s control of Congress in the wake of a January inflation report that showed an unexpectedly large surge in the cost of living for Americans.
Just weeks after Biden claimed that consumer-price gains had hit a peak, a government report showed Thursday that inflation remains on the upswing -- sowing doubts about whether the White House fully has its arms around a crisis that may be broadening. Prices rose 7.5% last month from a year ago, the most in four decades.
Republicans leapt at the opportunity the data offered. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to lay blame on the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill passed without GOP support last March. “The severity of this inflation was directly fueled by the reckless, far-left spending spree that every single Democrat in this chamber voted to ram through,” he said.
And, underlining the challenge of Biden getting pieces of his expansive Build Back Better social-investment program passed, Senator Joe Manchin, the pivotal West Virginia Democrat essential to White House efforts, was also quick to weigh in.
“Inflation taxes are draining the hard-earned wages of every American,” Manchin said in a statement. “Congress and the administration must proceed with caution before adding more fuel to an economy already on fire.”
Directly addressing Biden’s economic agenda, Manchin said in an interview with West Virginia MetroNews radio, “The bottom line is right now we’re not in a financial position to do it.”
Read More: Manchin Blasts Inflation, Casts More Doubt on Biden Agenda
The data from the Labor Department showed American pocketbooks being squeezed at every turn, underscoring the political risk to the president. Rent costs increased the most in nearly two decades, food and energy prices surged, and the cost for household furnishings and health insurance rose by the most on record.
“Inflation is up. It’s up. And -- coming from a family when the cost of gas went up you felt it in the household, you knew what it was like -- it matters,” Biden acknowledged in an event Thursday afternoon in Culpeper, Virginia.
The inflation data couldn’t come at a worse time, with the window closing for the president to repair his image in the minds of voters worn down by the pandemic and its economic ramifications. Congressional midterm elections loom in November.
Read more: Biden Urges Congress to Pass His Plan to Lower Drug Prices
Still, the president attempted to parlay the bad news into momentum for his proposals to expand help to hard-pressed American families.
“Bringing down the cost of healthcare, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs is an easy thing for us to do,” Biden said at an event alongside vulnerable House Democrat Abigail Spanberger. “It can be done legally with the stroke of a pen.”
For the moment, experts see the Democrats losing ground in November. Republicans need a net gain of just five House seats to take control of that chamber, and only one seat to regain the reins in a Senate now split 50-50 between the political parties.
“Ultimately the environment dictates so much,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a non-partisan election newsletter run by the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Democrats need something to change to hold one or both chambers.”
White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein underscored moves to address the cost-of-living surge. He said on Bloomberg Television on Thursday, “We have a very active agenda both near, medium and long term to try to ease price pressures.”
But Manchin appeared to rebut the argument made by White House officials that Biden’s legislation would help temper pressures on household budgets by addressing out-of-pocket costs on childcare, energy and medicine.
“As inflation and our $30 trillion in national debt continue a historic climb, only in Washington, D.C., do people seem to think that spending trillions more of taxpayers’ money will cure our problems, let alone inflation,” Manchin said.
Manchin hasn’t totally ruled out negotiations on elements of the president’s economic proposal, and Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders said that Congress should immediately pass a bill to lower prescription drug prices in the wake of the inflation report.
But Sanders also acknowledged that politically, “inflation is not good for anybody.”
Polling data suggests the pricing trends have been particularly bad for the president. Just 41% of Americans approve of the way Biden is doing his job, according to a Economist/YouGov poll released Tuesday. Some 84% of those surveyed said inflation was a “very” or “somewhat” serious problem.
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