Biden officials on the defensive over inflation, blame coronavirus pandemic

Accelerating inflation hit a 30-year peak in October, with hikes in the cost of everything from groceries to gas. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - With US President Joe Biden's poll numbers slumping under a surge in inflation, top adminstration officials defended his economic policies Sunday (Nov 14) and blamed the sharp price rises squarely on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Accelerating inflation hit a 30-year peak in October, with hikes in the cost of everything from groceries to gas slamming consumer confidence and undermining Biden's efforts to sell a package of massive spending plans.

A day before the president was due to sign a US$1.2 trillion (S$1.62 trillion) infrastructure spending bill, a new Washington Post-ABC poll published Sunday showed Biden's approval rating at a new low of 41 per cent, largely driven by growing public concern over his handling of the economy.

Taking to the Sunday morning TV talk shows, White House economic adviser Brian Deese acknowledged inflation was "high right now" but insisted that was a worldwide trend triggered by the pandemic, and not a consequence of administration policy.

"What we have said consistently is that the pandemic and economy are interlinked," Deese told CNN's State of Union, citing global, Covid-triggered supply chain blockages as a major inflationary factor.

The White House has argued that Biden's infrastructure legislation and an even bigger social welfare deal worth up to US$1.85 trillion, would tame inflation in the long term, easing supply bottlenecks and reducing the family cost of child care and prescription drugs.

Despite Democrat assurances that the spending drive is paid for by tax increases, Republican opponents insist it will only further aggravate price rises - an argument that has gained traction on the back of last month's inflation figures.

The 6.2 per cent surge in October surprised economists and the White House alike, and put Biden's administration on the defensive at a time when it would rather focus on promoting the infrastructure bill.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen echoed the line that Covid-19 was the main driver of the surge in consumer prices.

"It's important to realise that the cause of this inflation is the pandemic," Yellen said.

"And if we want to get inflation down, I think continuing to make progress against the pandemic is the most important thing we can do," she added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.