Surging inflation, with the possibility of massive spending bills in Congress driving prices even higher, has emerged as a top campaign issue heading into the midterm elections next year.
Lawmakers are getting an earful of Americans’ inflation woes at town hall meetings in their districts, where voters fret about higher prices for groceries, electricity and other necessities.
“Our shipping costs are going through the roof, and that is really hitting our wallets,” Harsh Patel, who runs an import business in Glen Allen, Virginia, told Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger during a phone town hall meeting last week.
The higher prices forced Mr. Patel to stop importing goods and raise the prices of his limited inventory.
“Your concerns are the same as I’ve heard from constituents across the district,” said Ms. Spanberger, who is among the 32 endangered incumbents identified by House Democrats’ campaign committee. “We’re hearing economists make estimates that we will be seeing some evening out. That is what I’m watching for.”
Other economists warn that pumping more money into the economy, such as with President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion social welfare expansion, risks higher inflation or stagflation. House Democrats gave initial approval to the plan this week.
Larry Summers, an economist who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and an economic adviser to President Obama, said policies pushed by the left might weaken the economy.
“Not everything we are seeing is likely to be temporary,” he wrote in a recent blog post. “A variety of factors suggests that inflation may yet accelerate — including further price pressures as demand growth outstrips supply growth; rising materials costs and diminished inventories; higher home prices that have so far not been reflected at all in official price indexes; and the impact of inflation expectations on purchasing behavior.”
Republicans are pressing the inflation issue to go after Democratic House and Senate candidates. They have launched a flurry of TV ads targeting vulnerable Democrats who this week voted to advance the $3.5 trillion social welfare bill and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
Polls show Americans are increasingly worried as consumer prices rose 5.4% in July for the highest annual increase since August 2008.
The annual increase included food up 3.4%, gasoline up 41.8% and used cars up 41.7%, according to the Labor Department.
Inflation was cited most often as the top concern over the economy in a Hill-Harris poll conducted in early August.
Thirty-one percent of registered voters in the survey named inflation as what concerns them the most when thinking about the future of the economy.
Mr. Biden has tried to explain away the rising prices as a temporary phenomenon. He blamed it on businesses reopening after COVID-19 shutdowns and the flood of demand driving prices higher.
But a Morning Consult poll last month found that most Americans weren’t buying Mr. Biden’s explanation. Nearly 60% either strongly or somewhat blamed Mr. Biden’s policies for the rising prices. Predictably, 82% of Republicans blamed Mr. Biden. What is concerning for Democrats is that 41% of Democratic voters and 58% of independents also blamed the president.
House Republicans, who are trying to win back control of the chamber next year, launched ads accusing 15 vulnerable Democrats of fueling the crisis by increasing government spending.
The ad debuted a day after all House Democrats supported keeping alive the $3.5 trillion liberal spending package, as well as the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package. They hope to pass both bills this fall.
The National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, capitalized on the Democrats’ votes and the plight of parents digging deep into their wallets to buy school supplies.
“It’s that time of year again,” the ads say, showing children running in a school. “Unfortunately, Democrats created an inflation crisis, and now you’re spending more. Electronics up 8%. Shoes up 8%. Dresses up 19%.”
Several Democrats targeted by the NRCC are distancing themselves from the $3.5 trillion package by describing their votes as something short of support for the package for anti-poverty, education, health care and climate change spending.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Arizona said in a statement that the vote was just procedural. “I remain very concerned with the proposed price tag of this package,” he said.
Other targeted Democrats embraced the spending proposals, which are popular with most voters. The package includes tuition-free community college and measures intended to lower prescription drug prices under Medicare.
“The Build Back Better plan will give working families much-needed tax cuts while lowering their health care and education costs,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, using the name Mr. Biden gave to his spending agenda. “This is historic legislation that will give working people and their kids a better chance at a good middle-class life, and I was happy to vote yes on moving it forward.”
The other incumbent House Democrats hit with the ads were:
• Josh Harder in California.
• Jahana Hayes in Connecticut.
• Stephanie Murphy in Florida.
• Cynthia Axne in Iowa.
• Sharice Davids in Kansas.
• Jared Golden in Maine.
• Elissa Slotkin in Michigan.
• Haley Stevens in Michigan.
• Angie Craig in Minnesota.
• Chris Pappas in New Hampshire.
• Tom Malinowski in New Jersey.
• Sean Patrick Maloney in New York.
• Vicente Gonzalez in Texas.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is trying to gain a single seat to take control of the evenly divided Senate, also seized on the trillion-dollar votes by three House Democrats who are running for the Senate.
“As they push forward their reckless tax and spending spree, American families will be left to pay the tab for inflation that is raging throughout the country,” said Priscilla Ivasco, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.