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

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

President Joe Biden can get his presidency back on track, particularly as it relates to the economy. He has time. One year until midterm elections and three years until the next presidential election is a lifetime in politics.

But Biden needs to focus on the things average Americans care about: the increasing costs of living in this country.

Biden needs to deal with inflation. If you are in the upper middle class and can stroll through Whole Foods without adding up the prices, you may think this is just a transitory problem. But if you grocery shop and constantly find yourself adding up the contents in your basket as you go, you are one of the millions of Americans who feel panicked as the prices for food rise along with those for gasoline and rent.

Fighting inflation is no small task

Tackling inflation will not be easy. If you read any part of Stuart Eizenstat’s examination of Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency, read the chapter called “The Great Stagflation." It describes just how painful fighting inflation can be and how politically damaging it can be, because the medicine for the inflation disease – recession – is even worse than the cure.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy on May 27, 2021, in Cleveland.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy on May 27, 2021, in Cleveland.

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Unlike Carter, Biden’s inflation problem is not compounded by unemployment. But the quick fixes Americans are desperate to see are difficult to execute when even economists can’t agree on the causes. For example, economist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner, says America's weak economy is transitory, exacerbated by supply chain problems, a shortage of semiconductor chips and the reluctance of workers to return to work.

This view is also shared by the White House economists.

But even if Krugman is right, there is a psychological aspect to inflation fears that can sometimes outweigh policy initiatives. The Biden administration could and should pursue all avenues, such as his recent decisions to open up supply chains and petroleum reserves. But the president also needs to address the panic Americans feel in the grocery store and at the gas station.

Hope going forward, abating inflation

Unfortunately Biden will get little credit for government’s successes, though I believe those economic wins will come. Signing the infrastructure bill was a big first step. But now he needs to pay attention to its implementation and get the infrastructure money out the door quickly and with no associated scandals or funds mismanagement.

Elaine Kamarck
Elaine Kamarck

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As President Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” and every failure in the government will be blamed on Biden. But it would serve the president – and the American people – if he shared a consistent message that he understands our economic pain and is working nonstop to slow the bleed.

Elaine C. Kamarck is director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Americans who struggle to pay bills need Joe Biden to act – and lead

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