A couple of weeks ago, Americans received some good news on inflation: The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which helps measure cost-of-living changes, and which has spent much of the year climbing, was flat in July. President Joe Biden was quick to celebrate the heartening data.
More than a few Republicans flipped out and accused the White House of lying, but reality wouldn’t budge. As Slate’s Jordan Weissmann joked, the GOP was “outraged at Joe Biden for accurately describing the economy.”
On the surface, the partisan apoplexy was wrong but understandable. As the prevailing political winds start to blow in Democrats’ favor, Republicans need inflation. It is at the heart of the GOP’s strategy for the midterm elections.
But there’s a dimension to this that the party isn’t yet prepared for. Republicans have a simple calculus in mind: Americans aren’t happy with high prices, so they’ll blame the party in power, whether that makes sense of not.
The complication comes when GOP officials are asked what, specifically, the party intends to do about the issue.
Over the weekend, NBC News’ Chuck Todd asked Republican Rep. Andy Barr — a five-term incumbent and the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee’s panel on monetary policy — the question on the minds of many. “Let me ask you this: What is your plan to deal with inflation?” the “Meet the Press” host asked. “What is the Republican plan to deal with inflation — other than not supporting Joe Biden policies? ... What is the proactive agenda here?”
The GOP congressman responded:
“Well, we have a positive agenda. We have a commitment to America, and we’re going to get back to basics.”
Barr then peddled a variety of hollow talking points, referencing illicit drugs, border security, a border wall, the terrorist watch list, the IRS, and oil drilling. Those waiting for the Kentucky congressman to get around to answering the question — “What is the Republican plan to deal with inflation?” — were left wanting.
Barr didn’t come right out and say his party doesn’t have a plan — that wouldn’t have been a politic answer — but he also left little doubt that his party doesn’t have a plan.
As regular readers know, this is not a new problem for the GOP. In April, for example, NBC News asked Sen. Joni Ernst about her plan to address the issue. The Iowa Republican responded, “Stop spending federal money and then start investing in American innovation and energy.”
In other words, to reduce inflation, Ernst wants to spend less and spend more.
Two weeks earlier, Donald Trump was asked on Fox News what he’d do to address inflation if he were in the White House. He gave a long, meandering, and wildly dishonest answer, which didn’t even try to address the question.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was last fall when Sen. Rick Scott accidentally told The Wall Street Journal what he was actually thinking. Looking ahead to the next round of elections, the Florida Republican, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, seemed a little eager to celebrate inflation. “This is a gold mine for us,” the senator said.
The obvious problem was that elected officials aren’t supposed to be happy about economic conditions that hurt the public. Scott’s “gold mine” rhetoric made him sound less like someone looking out for Americans’ interests and more like The Simpsons’ C. Montgomery Burns.
But just as notable was the fact that Scott’s party still doesn’t have much in the way of actual policy ideas related to inflation, the Floridian’s glee notwithstanding. NBC News reported last fall, “[B]eyond blocking Biden’s wide-ranging social safety net and climate action plan ... how the GOP would tackle a notoriously difficult economic trend is less clear.”
The report added that much of the GOP’s plan — to the extent that anyone can credibly call it a “plan” — would have “little effect or no effect in addressing the cause of increased costs or would not materially affect the economy for years.”
That was in late November. It’s now late August, and very little has changed. When Biden insists that Republicans “have no plan” to address inflation, he’s not wrong.