Biden’s Newest Bridge

The president’s ex-chief of staff warns that, as voters fume over inflation, the commander-in-chief ‘is out there too much talking about bridges.’

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
President Biden near the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, April 5, 2024, at Baltimore, Maryland. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The stubbornness of President Biden’s inflation wave — signaled by prices in March jumping 3.5 percent over last year — could vindicate the warning by his ex-chief of staff, Ron Klain, that he “is out there too much talking about bridges.” Two or three times a week, it seems, Mr. Biden “is cutting a ribbon on a bridge,” Mr. Klain says, but the photo-ops fail to appease voter anger when “you go to the grocery store and, you know, eggs and milk are expensive.”

“He’s not running for Congress,” is how, per Politico, Mr. Klain framed the advice to his former boss. The president’s penchant for publicity over infrastructure projects “also doesn’t get covered that much,” Mr. Klain frets, “because, look, it’s a furshlugginer* bridge.” In Mr. Klain’s telling, “it’s a bridge, and how interesting is the bridge? It’s a little interesting, but it’s not a lot interesting.” In light of how irate voters are over inflation, it would seem Mr. Klain has a point.

After all, it’s an understatement of the first water to call this morning’s inflation numbers interesting. The unexpectedly high rate of price increases sent markets tumbling and, per the New York Times, “rattled” Wall Street. Market watchers had been speculating about how soon, and how fast, the Federal Reserve would start lowering interest rates. Now Secretary Summers is suggesting that the Fed’s next move could be an interest rate hike.

Inflation’s comeback deflates the hopes of liberal economists like Paul Krugman, who had crowed “the war on inflation is more or less over, and we won.” Admittedly, inflation is down from its peak of 9.1 percent back in July 2022. If the trends of the past three months persist, though, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget contends, inflation for the year could come in at 4.4 percent. That’s more than double the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent. 

Two percent inflation is bad enough, leading prices to double — and savings to halve — in the span of about 35 years. Yet if today’s headline inflation number, at 3.5 percent, was bad, core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, is even worse: 3.8 percent, a point Mr. Summers underscored in comments to Bloomberg News. He noted that growth in the “supercore service gauge” tracked by the Fed “accelerated” in March.

The thing to remember about today’s inflation is that it’s not that the value of goods and services is rising. It’s that the value of the dollar is falling. Feature the dollar’s notching record lows — almost on a daily basis of late — when it is measured in terms of the traditional basis of monetary value, gold. On Tuesday the dollar dropped to a 2,365th of a gold ounce, Reuters said, only to recover some value today after the inflation news cast doubt on a rate cut.

No wonder voters are despondent. A gauge of small business optimism, Bloomberg’s John Auther writes, “has just dropped to a lower level than it ever touched during the worst of the pandemic.” The index, from the National Federation of Independent Business, was only lower during the 2008 financial crisis and “the dire days of 1975 and 1980,” Mr. Auther observes, when America faces “both economic recessions and humiliating international reverses.”

That index tracks with surveys showing that “many Americans blame Mr. Biden for high prices,” as the Associated Press reports, with a degree of perplexity, despite “a healthy job market” and “a near-record-high stock market.” Yet voter frustration could stem from the fact that Mr. Biden appears to be oblivious to two of the root causes of inflation — the overspending he has pushed through Congress and the ensuing explosion in federal debt.

Far from being aware of the need for fiscal and monetary policy discipline to bring the inflationary spiral back down to earth, Mr. Biden is pressuring the Fed to lower interest rates, and fast. Say what you will about Mr. Klain, he appears to have his finger on the pulse of the electorate as the contours of the November election are coming into focus. If Mr. Biden fails to turn things around on inflation, his re-election bid could prove a bridge to nowhere.


* This word was substituted by the Sun in a friendly spirit.

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