The Republican plan for inflation? It's more about the 2022 campaign than current policy

·9 min read

WASHINGTON – As rising inflation bedevils President Joe Biden and the global economy, Republicans are hauling out a tried-and-true campaign playbook: attack the Democrats and their government spending policies in an election year.

Rather than promoting a new and specific anti-inflation plan of their own, most Republicans are previewing the 2022 elections by repeating longtime calls to curb federal spending, cut taxes and reduce regulations – arguments that have helped them periodically win control of Congress over the past three-quarters of a century.

Economists attribute the latest spike in inflation to many factors – particularly the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic – but Republicans plan to put the blame squarely on Biden and the Democrats. It's the same tactic they used successfully against previous Democratic presidents in challenging economic times, from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson to Jimmy Carter.

Now it's Biden's turn. The GOP, seeking to regain control of the House and Senate in next year's elections, weaponized the inflation issue again Friday after the Labor Department reported that prices jumped 6.8% over the twelve months through November, the highest annual inflation rate since Ronald Reagan's presidency in 1982.

"Biden has lost the trust and confidence of the American people to get the economy working for them," said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee.

More: CPI report released: Consumer prices jumped 6.8% in November, the fastest inflation spike since 1982

Democrats have said their economic plans will curb inflation and reduce prices for things like child care and prescription drugs. Their 2022 candidates also plan to argue that Republicans have no real economic plans beyond obstructing whatever Biden and the Democrats want to do.

Current inflation rates "reflect the pressures that economies around the world are facing as we emerge from a global pandemic," Biden said Friday.

Earlier this month, Biden told reporters that his economic plans will "reduce inflationary pressure in the economy," and added that "it's always easier to complain about a problem than to try to fix it." The president noted one prominent GOP senator – Florida's Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a campaign organization – described the issue as a political "gold mine."

"Imagine rooting for a higher cost for American families just to score a few political points," Biden said.

Long-term effects: Inflation hit a 31-year high in October, but will it sway voters in the 2022 congressional elections?

Inflation is 'very popular issue for the GOP'

Jazmin Vargas, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicted voters will punish Republicans for obstructing "popular policies that are putting more money in Americans’ pockets."

Still, Democrats hope that, as the pandemic eases, inflation will recede and be a non-issue in 2022. Polls have indicated voter criticism of Biden's handling of the economy, and some Democratic candidates say that Republicans will benefit from voter worry about high gas and food prices.

Democrats like Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running for governor of Florida, called on Biden to suspend the federal gas tax, calling such a step "a great way" to address the inflation problem "in a responsible fashion.”

Republicans, meanwhile, are spotlighting Democratic spending plans, particularly the still-pending Build Back Better plan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in the wake of the latest inflation report that "it is unthinkable" for Democrats to respond by "ramming through another massive socialist spending package in a matter of days."

In pushing inflation as a campaign issue for 2022 – and using it to attack government spending – Republicans are reaching back to a tactic they tried to use against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal of the 1930s.

Opinion: Biden must tackle inflation, address Americans struggling to pay for rent, gas, groceries

In 1946, after more than a decade of New Deal programs to battle the Great Depression and the expansion of government to fight World War II, Republicans used rising prices of meat, housing and other essentials against President Harry Truman and other Democrats.

Deploying the slogan "Had Enough?," the GOP won control of both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Republicans used the inflation issue to win back the White House itself in 1952, as GOP nominee Dwight David Eisenhower cast rising prices as a threat to national stability.

"It's been a very popular issue for the GOP," said Princeton-based political historian Julian Zelizer. "It's always been used, even when presidents are doing things that are popular."

Inflation surfaced again in the 1966 congressional elections, after two years in which President Lyndon Johnson and an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress passed a raft of Great Society legislation, from the creation of Medicare and Medicaid to federal aid to education and local governments.

As Republicans blamed higher prices on increased government spending, they picked up 47 House seats and three Senate slots in 1966, though Democrats retained control of both chambers.

Little more than a decade later, double-digit inflation virtually wrecked President Jimmy Carter's presidency, and he suffered a landslide loss to Republican Reagan in 1980.

The Reagan era demonstrated that inflation is only one economic weapon that can be used in a campaign.

The government's efforts to fight inflation in the early 1980s, including higher interest rates, budget cuts, and stubbornly persistent inflation led to high unemployment and a deeper recession. Democrats used those issues against Reagan and the Republicans in successful 1982 midterm elections.

Inflation politics is back

Inflation played less of a role in midterm Republican congressional victories in 1994 and 2010. The GOP attacked proposed expansions of government under Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, particularly the latter's health care plan.

Those Republican-led Congresses, however, ran into political troubles of their own. Both Clinton and Obama won re-elections, and the Democrats reclaimed one or both houses of Congress during the Republican presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Republicans revived inflation as a campaign issue this year, particularly after the Consumer Price Index reported a 6.2% year-to-year inflation rate for October, the biggest jump in three decades. The party upped the ante after Friday's report showing an even higher annual inflation rate of 6.8%, the highest in nearly 40 years.

Rather than offer a specific plan, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP candidates say they would tame inflation with traditional Republican economic doctrine, particularly spending reductions, and tax and regulation cuts.

They also pledged to change the unemployment insurance system, claiming it encourages people to stay at home rather than work. And they vowed to remove environmental regulation on oil and gas production, and cuts taxes on business activities, all of which they say contributes to inflation.

McCarthy said this week his party will "put pressure on the Biden administration to hold them accountable for this skyrocketing inflation."

In Washington, Republicans are engaged in a trial run of their inflation strategy. They are trying to block Biden's Build Back Better plan, which includes child care, health care, family aid and other assistance programs, described as the largest expansion of the social safety net in decades.

Biden and the Democrats said Build Back Better has inflation-fighting measures, including lower costs for child care and prescriptions drugs. A White House statement said "the Republican 'plan' would risk returning to the depths of the pandemic and continued inflation."

After Friday's report, Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson said "Republicans will complain about the problem of inflation and then oppose Build Back Better which is the solution that lowers costs."

Biden is taking executive action to address inflation, including tapping the strategic oil reserve to stabilize gas prices. The president has also called for an investigation of oil and gas pricing policies.

Still, if inflation is still a problem in the fall of next year, the Democrats are likely to suffer at the polls, as has happened before.

Liz Mair, a Republican strategist, said the GOP has the political advantage of being in the minority, so it doesn't have to propose specific plans. All Republicans have to do, she said, is argue that "'Democrats were in charge, look what happened, you need a check on Biden.' ... A lot of swing voters will buy that."

More: Inflation surges to 31-year high. What the jump in consumer prices means for your pocketbook, Joe Biden's troubles

'Six months from now, it might be something else'

The Republican plan assumes inflation will still be a problem when people start early voting in the fall.

There is no guarantee that will happen.

Some economic analysts say inflation will weaken as the nation moves past the pandemic, reforms supply chains and satisfies renewed demands for goods and services.

"I don't think we're going to be talking about inflation a year from now," said Tony Fratto, a spokesman for the Treasury Department and the White House during the George W. Bush administration. "I think inflation is going to come down."

Not long ago, Fratto pointed out, people thought the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan would bog down Democrats in the next election year; now, few people are talking about it.

The coming Supreme Court decision on abortion rights, and the prospect of an opening on the high court, could also ascend as major issues in the midterm elections.

"Six months from now, it might be something else," Fratto said. "That's the nature of these things."

More: Biden's failures continue to mount as Americans suffer. What a missed opportunity.

Republicans pointed to recent comments by government officials that they would stop using the word "transitory" to describe the current inflation situation, suggesting that the problem isn't going to go away anytime soon.

They also note a series of polls revealing increased concern about higher prices.

Calvin Moore, communications director for a pro-Republican political action committee called the Congressional Leadership Fund, said "inflation is the top concern for voters right now."

"Unless there's a big change of course," he said, "it's going to continue to be a big issue."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the Republican plan for inflation? It's more about 2022

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting