Calling US inflation 'temporary', Biden pushes more spending

US President Joe Biden stressed that the overall state of the economy is healthy.
US President Joe Biden stressed that the overall state of the economy is healthy.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Joe Biden on Monday sought to tamp down concern about spiralling prices that threaten to dent the United State economic recovery, saying the current inflation rise is "temporary" and not a long-term problem.

He also said one of the best ways to keep the American economy on track was for Congress to greenlight additional federal spending in the form of a major bipartisan infrastructure package, which faces a looming deadline this week in the US Senate.

The President made the case that his administration's vaccination push and his sweeping domestic agenda, which includes the injection of trillions of dollars into the economy, will "take the pressure off of inflation" rather than increasing it.

The global supply chain has faced challenges in getting back up to speed following the coronavirus pandemic, leading to price spikes on many products.

"Some folks have raised worries that this could be a sign of persistent inflation, but that's not our view," Mr Biden said in a White House speech.

"Our experts believe, and the data shows, that most of the price increases we've seen were expected and are expected to be temporary."

Mr Biden's effort at reassurance came as US stocks tumbled 2.1 per cent on Monday amid resurgent Covid-19 fears and worries about inflation pinching global growth.

Mr Biden stressed that the overall state of the economy is healthy - despite the "predictions of doom and gloom" six months into his administration by Republican critics.

The President, meanwhile, pushed Congress to take action on his multi-trillion-dollar plan to reshape government intervention in American society with the largest federal investments in a generation.

'Should be united'

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer launched a hardball effort to move on the first part of Mr Biden's plan, a historic bipartisan infrastructure package to fix and upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, ports and broadband Internet.

Mr Schumer initiated the process that sets up a test vote on Wednesday - even though the infrastructure agreement, under negotiation by 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans and featuring US$579 billion (S$791 billion) in new spending, is in jeopardy.

Legislative language has yet to be finalised, as Republicans baulked at a key revenue source under discussion: empowering government to more aggressively track down tax cheats.

Mr Schumer stressed that the initial step - a procedural move known as a cloture vote - is just an opening gambit, and that the Bill can be finalised later.

"The motion to proceed on Wednesday is simply about getting the legislative process started here on the Senate floor," Mr Schumer told colleagues.

"It is not a deadline to determine every final detail of the Bill." Mr Biden earlier had expressed support for the move, saying "we should be united" on passage of the bipartisan infrastructure framework that lawmakers and the White House agreed in general terms to after weeks of haggling.

But some Republicans are bristling at the need for speed, given the deal was still in flux.

"How can I vote for cloture when the Bill isn't written?" Senator Bill Cassidy told Fox News Sunday.

Infrastructure is one slice of Mr Biden's domestic agenda. He also supports a US$3.5 trillion budget framework Democrats aim to pass.

The massive plan, including once-in-a-generation investments in health, education, climate initiatives and social welfare expansion, would use of a fast track process known as reconciliation that allows budget-related legislation to pass by simple majority.

With Republicans united against the broader budget Bill, every Senate Democrat would need to support the package - no guarantee in a caucus that includes progressives and moderates.

Mr Biden pushed for his broad set of initiatives outlined in the US$3.5 trillion framework, saying: "Simply put, we can't afford not to make these investments." Republicans warn that such spending would further fuel inflation.

"Another multi-trillion-dollar reckless taxing and spending spree, believe me, is the last thing American families need," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.