Biden pledges to battle ‘too high’ prices as inflation surges

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By Andrea Shalal

BALTIMORE -President Joe Biden’s first trip to celebrate a long-sought congressional victory on infrastructure was clouded by new data showing inflation rose to a level not seen for more than 30 years.Biden, who ran on his ability to whip COVID-19 and revive the economy that the pandemic left in tatters, now faces rising political pressure over shortages of goods and rising prices as society comes back to life.

“Consumer prices remain too high,” Biden said at the Port of Baltimore. “We still face challenges we have to tackle head on.”

The remarks followed hours after the Labor Department reported that U.S. consumer prices accelerated 6.2% in the 12 months through October, the largest year-on-year jump since November 1990.

Broad-based gains from pork chops to gasoline, sports tickets and health insurance suggested the issue was not a one-off, as the White House has largely maintained was the case through 2021.

On Wednesday, Biden described reversing inflation as “a top priority for me.”

The trip would have been more of a victory lap under different circumstances. Lawmakers on Friday passed a $1 trillion infrastructure package that Biden chaperoned after months of torturous negotiations.

Baltimore’s port is one of the nation’s busiest, and it is set to benefit from billions of dollars that the bill has set aside for ports alone.

Port congestion is one of the major issues. Goods ordered months ago from abroad wait at sea to be unloaded and transported inland.

Issues like those have turned Biden’s White House into an economic emergency response team. Biden on Tuesday talked to companies including Walmart and UPS to ensure they are ready for demand to skyrocket during the Christmas holiday rush. His aides worked with the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to move goods around the clock.

The infrastructure package includes $17 billion in investments to help ports, including dredging to allow for larger ships and capacity expansion.

The Port of Baltimore imports and exports more autos, farm machinery and construction equipment than any other U.S. port. It employs more than 15,300 people.

Economic concerns have created political issues for Biden. The Democratic president has seen his popularity sag in recent months. His party is looking ahead to the 2022 mid-term elections, when they must defend their thin congressional majorities.

Now, Biden is trying to close a deal on a roughly $1.75 trillion proposal to expand the country’s social safety net and fight climate change.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who holds a virtual veto over Biden’s agenda given narrow congressional margins, said on Wednesday that politicians “can no longer ignore the economic pain Americans feel every day.”

Manchin has previously expressed concern that the new spending bill could exacerbate inflation, a notion disputed by White House officials and a number of independent economists.

(Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia; Writing by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Diane Craft)