CULPEPER, Virginia — Unable to tame inflation that has worsened sharply under his watch, President Joe Biden plans Thursday to emphasize how his administration’s policies can cut prescription drug prices.
He traveled to Culpeper, Virginia, on the heels of a dire inflation report on Thursday morning. Consumer prices jumped 7.5% over the year ending in January, as the sources of inflation have broadened on a monthly basis with increases in the costs of rent, electricity, clothes and household furnishings.
Inflation poses a triple threat for Biden. Prices at a 40-year peak have dimmed his public support and endangered his policy agenda, while efforts by the Federal Reserve to curb inflation could meaningfully slow the strong economic growth that had been a highlight of his first year.
Biden’s trip to Virginia will also be an opportunity for him to start promoting his party’s candidates in November’s midterm elections. He’s expected to appear alongside Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who is in danger of losing her seat representing a central Virginia district.
“He is eager to go out there and hit the road for Democrats who are fighting for an agenda for the American people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Spanberger said in an interview Thursday that she wants to put prescription drug costs “at front and center of the discussion,” and that addressing the issue could help Americans at a time of rising inflation.
“If you’re facing increased prices at the gas pump or the cost of chicken at the grocery store goes up, it hurts,” she said.
Spanberger is one of several Democrats who have raised alarms about slipping support from voters. She suggested in a November interview with The New York Times that Biden had overreached with his plans for new government programs that recalled the Depression-era agenda of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“Nobody elected him to be FDR; they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” she said.
After the article was published, Spanberger said, she got a call from Biden, who said “this is President Roosevelt calling.” Biden was “belly laughing,” she said.
Prescription drugs remain a politically safe focal point for Biden’s visit, and Spanberger said the president was right to push forward on it.
“One of the most unsettling things for people is the inability to afford their prescription drugs,” she said.
The tougher question is how to blunt Republican criticism on inflation and convince skittish lawmakers such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to back Biden’s pared down economic agenda. Manchin, the decisive Democratic vote, has said the priority should be on stopping inflation rather than on more government spending. Meanwhile, Republicans seized on Thursday’s inflation report to blast Biden for his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package for fueling the spike in prices.
“Rampant inflation and soaring prices are crushing, crushing the American people,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday in remarks on the Senate floor. “If you haven’t personally gotten a pay raise of 8% or more in the last year, then Democrats’ policies have given you a pay cut.”
A December poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found inflation and personal financial issues rising as priorities for Americans. In an open-ended question, 14% named inflation among their top priorities for the government to be working on this year, compared with almost nobody naming it a year before.
In an AP-NORC poll conducted in January, just 37% said they approved of Biden’s handling of the economy, down from 60% in March of 2021 and slightly lower than his overall approval rating, which stood at 43%.
Efforts to lower prescription drug costs have long been popular with voters, but bipartisan consensus has proved elusive. It’s unclear if there’s a political path forward for Biden’s plans in Congress.
His proposals include capping out-of-pocket medication costs for Medicare recipients at $2,000 per year and insulin at $35 per month. In addition, Medicare would be allowed to negotiate prices for a limited number of prescription drugs and drugmakers would be required to pay rebates if they raise costs faster than inflation.
“It’s safe to say that all of us can agree that prescription drugs are outrageously expensive in this country,” Biden said Dec. 6.