Democrats have two inflation problems on their hands: a real one, and an imaginary one.
The real one concerns the current inflationary spike that experts are still trying to game out in terms of cause and longevity. And then there’s the imaginary one, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) uses inflation as pretext to slow down or kill the reconciliation bill despite broad expert consensus that the package will not increase the inflation rate.
The West Virginia senator sent antennas up when he tweeted last week that inflation is “getting worse,” giving political observers flashbacks to his September op-ed where he named inflation as a key reason that he opposed a reconciliation bill of $3.5 trillion.
The White House and Democratic congressional leadership have launched a preemptive messaging campaign, arguing that not only will the reconciliation bill not worsen inflation, but that it’ll actually help long term by expanding the economy’s capacity.
Democratic senators who spoke with TPM are similarly dismissive of the Manchin handwringing, which Republicans are opportunistically latching onto.
“Considering that Build Back Better is paid for — that’s our intention — I don’t know how that’s supposed to impact inflation,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told TPM. “I wish people would figure out what the actual causal things are.”
A barrage of experts have explained in recent days that because the reconciliation package is paid for and pays out slowly, over 10 years, it won’t pose an inflationary threat the way a sudden burst of stimulus money might. That has assuaged the worry of many Democrats not named Manchin.
“There are colleagues that share these concerns, but I think they have largely been allayed,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told TPM.
“I think that is the effort Republicans are making — but it’s a false linkage,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) told TPM of attempts to paint reconciliation as an inflationary threat. “If anything, passing the bill is going to help us fight inflation by getting people back into the workplace.”
While the Biden administration tries to beat back the current inflation spike, Manchin’s colleagues and observers alike wait to see if he’ll conflate the real problem with one of his own invention.
“We would be wise not to be dismissive of a problem that people are experiencing,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told TPM. “But we would be idiots to not pass legislation that would actually ease the supply chain, build a stronger labor market and alleviate the problem itself.”
“Pretending that every bill we pass is causing inflation is just a talking point and has no relationship to reality,” he added.