The president has in recent weeks painted a bifurcated picture of the economy in speeches and news releases. He promotes what he calls historic progress on several measures. But he quickly turns to acknowledging the sticker shock that families have experienced at the grocery store, the gasoline pump and a variety of online shopping sites.
“Economic growth is stronger here than virtually any other nation,” Mr. Biden said on Friday. “Americans have more money in their pockets than this time last year — $100 more each month than last year — even after accounting for price increases. But we have to get prices and costs down before consumers will feel confident in that recovery. That is a top goal of my administration.”
While Mr. Biden’s comments are aimed broadly at voters, they have a singular intended audience in Congress: Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, who has cited inflation as a reason not to back a $2.2 trillion collection of spending programs and tax cuts that Mr. Biden is attempting to pass through Congress by year’s end, jeopardizing the bill’s prospects.
Mr. Biden will need every Democrat in the Senate to support the measure for it to pass. Mr. Manchin has in recent days repeated his fear that the spending in the bill, which includes initiatives to fight climate change and invest in children, parents and workers, could further exacerbate price increases — a claim that administration officials and Mr. Biden say is unfounded. Mr. Biden said Friday that he would meet with Mr. Manchin next week.
Republicans have used inflation as a club against the bill and Mr. Biden’s popularity. “There would never be a good time to pass the Democrats’ reckless tax-and-spending spree,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, said on Friday, “but these inflation numbers indicate that now is the absolute worst time for Democrats to do just that.”
Many liberal groups fear that messaging is hampering Mr. Biden’s agenda, which would deliver on a wide range of longstanding progressive priorities. Those groups have urged Mr. Biden to pin the blame for rising costs not on his policies, but on large corporations that they say are leveraging their market power to hike prices and pad profits. Democratic lawmakers including Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have begun trying to make that case.
The American economy gives large companies the power “to jack up prices on the backs of workers and consumers,” said Rakeen Mabud, the managing director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive advocacy group in Washington. “That’s exactly what we’re seeing now. And that’s exactly why this fear-mongering around inflation is proving so effective.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.