WORLD / AMERICAS
Biden, Fed chair talk US inflation
Surging prices are a political threat ahead of midterms
Published: Jun 01, 2022 04:53 PM Updated: Jun 01, 2022 04:47 PM


US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2022, after a gunman shot dead 18 young children at an elementary school in Texas. Photo: AFP
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 24, 2022, after a gunman shot dead 18 young children at an elementary school in Texas. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden held a rare White House meeting with the head of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, on Tuesday to discuss soaring inflation and White House attempts to tame the politically damaging price surge ahead of midterm elections.

“I am meeting today to discuss my top priority: that is addressing inflation in order to transition from historic recovery to a steady growth,” Biden said.

Also joined in the Oval Office by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Biden stressed to reporters that while the Fed has a “laser focus” on inflation, he does not intend to infringe on the central bank’s traditional independence.

“It starts with a simple proposition: Respect the Fed, respect the Fed’s independence,” he said.

The White House said that the first Biden-Powell meeting in 2022 would focus on inflation but in general “discuss the state of the American and global economy.”

This is Biden’s “top economic priority,” the White House said, “as we transition... to stable, steady growth that works for working families.”

Inflation of more than 8 percent is casting a heavy shadow on Biden’s claims to be steering the US economy to health after the COVID-19-induced crash.

Employment is back near pre-pandemic levels and growth is strong, but savage price increases for essentials including food and fuel are driving growing public dissatisfaction.

The Fed has raised rates three quarters of a percentage point, kicking off what central bank officials say could be a series of hikes aimed at calming down the economy, although there are fears that the unintended result may be recession.

Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said on Monday that he backs several more half-point rate hikes – “until I see inflation coming down closer to our two percent target.”

According to a poll in mid-May by Pew Research Center, inflation is easily the biggest topic of concern for Americans, with 70 percent making it number one, compared to 54 percent listing violent crime. 

Biden is scrambling to ease the pressure on American consumers ahead of November midterm elections in which his Democrats are forecast to lose control of Congress to the Republicans.

Biden’s own approval ratings are barely in the 40 percent range, reflecting his inability to sell voters on his upbeat message of US economic recovery.

As the election approaches, Biden has pivoted to more aggressively trying to explain the inflation phenomenon as a byproduct of forces beyond his control.

These include the Russian-Ukraine conflict, which triggered Western sanctions disrupting the huge Russian energy industry. 

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Biden underlined the importance of not interfering in the Federal Reserve’s work.

AFP