A report showing inflation rising at its fastest rate in nearly four decades raised fresh questions Friday about the fate of President Joe Biden’s social and environment legislation, with both sides hoping it would influence whether pivotal Sen. Joe Manchin will back the proposal.
The moderate Manchin, D-W.Va., has spent months forcing Democrats to trim the 10-year, $2 trillion package’s size, citing rising inflation as a reason to slow work on the bill. On Friday, the government said consumer prices grew last month at an annual rate of 6.8%, the highest in 39 years.
Manchin aides did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the lawmaker. On Thursday, he said in a brief interview that he was “very concerned” about the inflation report.
The political sensitivity of inflation and its impact on Democrat’s family services, health care and climate change bill was underscored as leaders of both parties latched onto the inflation increase as ammunition in their fight over the legislation.
Democrats argued that the report intensified the need to approve the bill, which includes many of Biden’s top domestic goals. They said its initiatives bolstering spending and tax credits for health care, children’s costs, education and other programs would help families cope with rising prices. Most of the bill is paid for with tax boosts on the wealthy and big corporations.
“For anyone who, like me, is concerned about costs facing American families, passing BBB is the most immediate and direct step we can take to deliver,” Biden said in a statement, using the acronym for his bill’s formal name, “Build Back Better.”
Republicans argued that the legislation’s expenditures would further feed inflation, which has been fueled by supply chain delays making products less available and spending prompted by a strong underlying economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that inflation means “the average American has gotten a pay cut,” adding, “It is unthinkable that Senate Democrats would try to respond to this inflation report by ramming through another massive socialist spending package in a matter of days.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wants to reach final compromises with Manchin and other Democrats on unresolved issues and push a final package through his chamber by Christmas.
It is unclear whether he’ll be able to meet that timeline. Every Democrat in the 50-50 chamber will have to back it so Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote to approve it.
The House approved an initial version of the legislation last month.