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Republicans keen on hammering Biden on inflation as the White House projects hike

Republicans will most likely keep using inflation as a battle line, while political strategists see it just as a talking point.
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Editor’s Note (May 2, 2022, 11:34 a.m. ET): NBC News has determined that two passages in an earlier version of this article about OMB’s growth forecasts were not properly attributed to their original source and did not meet our standards for original material. The passages have been removed from the article.

WASHINGTON — Consumers across the country are feeling the pain, and not just at the pump, as prices on everyday conveniences reach new levels — which Republicans say is a direct result of President Joe Biden's economic agenda.

The finger-pointing by the GOP began with the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill the president signed in March and now a $3.5 trillion social safety net bill, which overcame a key procedural motion in the House last week after a last-minute clash between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and centrist House Democrats.

Since the beginning of Biden's presidency and more recently with his economic agenda advancing, Republicans have taken to using inflation as a rallying cry.

Friday's disappointing job numbers are likely to only fuel the Republican argument that the economy is not responding well to federal stimulus.

Democrats, however, think the attack line is fleeting.

"It's a talking point for them in the sense that they are going to keep saying it out loud" and it's "a pretty useless and stupid one," said Eddie Vale, a partner at New Paradigm Strategy group and a veteran of Democratic and progressive political and legislative campaigns.

Republicans are jumping from one talking point to another and "they don't really have anything that's sticking right now, so they're just throwing spaghetti at the wall," Vale said.

For months now, Republican members of Congress have been using inflation as a point of contention with the Biden agenda, and it could still be a major point for the GOP in the fall and upon returning from their August recess. However other looming issues remain in the forefront, such as the surge in coronavirus cases and the end of the war in Afghanistan.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., talking about the passage of both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation deal in an interview last month on "Mornings With Maria" on the Fox Business channel, called the measures “horrible policy” and said they would saddle that nation with debt “that will add to inflation that’s already out of control."

Last month at a Richmond Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "I don't have to ask for a show of hands, inflation's everywhere. If you ever go to the grocery store, you're experiencing it."

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has frequently referred to Larry Summers, who was President Bill Clinton's treasury secretary, for making comments this year that Biden's economic agenda was going to produce a wave of inflation.

The administration, however, points to the pandemic as the cause of the surge in inflation and argues that the rise in prices will diminish rapidly.

While people are starting to feel the pinch at the grocery store and at the pump, it still isn't clear if the inflation is temporary, said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and former senior House aide.

Heye warns, "If this is long term, and we're talking inflation in August of next year, it's a very real political problem for Democrats."

"I think for some Republicans, they're quite happy to rather be talking about kind of more normal political issues," Heye said. "So not talking about masks or mandates or whatever, they'd rather talk about the economy."

Consumers across the country have seen inflation in many sectors as a result of the pandemic. Gas prices were climbing as people re-emerged from lockdowns to travel again. In May, the national average broke $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years. And the average new car in May cost more than $41,000, according to Kelley Blue Book — a jump of over $2,000.

The Agriculture Department's Food Price outlook, which predicts the Consumer Price Index for all food, increased 0.7 percent from June to July, and food prices were 3.4 percent higher than in July 2020. And no food categories have decreased in price in 2021 compared to 2020.

Jeff Timmer, a Michigan-based political strategist and senior adviser for the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, said he was somewhat skeptical of Republicans' use of inflation, even with consumers noticing price shifts on a daily or weekly basis.

"I understand why the Republicans are pushing this — it helps them if they can get people pissed off at Biden, and you know the out-of-pocket costs, but overall I don't think it's likely to be the benefit that they think it is," Timmer said.

Biden is counting on a robust economic recovery to keep his popularity and his agenda alive as he tries to push through his big infrastructure package, which would partly be paid for by tax increases.

Biden's approval rating among U.S. adults has slipped modestly in recent months — from 53 percent in April to 49 percent now — according to an NBC News survey released last week. The pollsters who conducted the survey said that has more to do with the surge in Covid cases than the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Biden supporters in the 2020 presidential election are concerned globally on a variety of issues, and not just on inflation, said Timmer, who predicts it won't sway voters the next time around.

"If the election were held right now, it doesn't seem like inflation is going to be the dominating issue," Timmer said. "I can't imagine that the global circumstances, domestically or internationally, are going to change so much in the next year that gas prices are going to be what's driving people's vote."