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White House corporate ‘price gouging’ pressure campaign

US President Joe Biden speaks about strengthening US ports and supply chains after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association finalized a new contract covering west coast ports, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 6, 2023.

Jim Watson | Afp | Getty Images

The White House doubled down Tuesday on President Joe Biden’s warning to companies that have not cut retail prices, even though manufacturing costs have stabilized and the inflation rate has cooled.

“Prices for producers have grown a lot more slowly over the last year. Companies should pass those savings on to consumers,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One, en route to Colorado. “That’s why taking on price gouging has been part of the President’s economic agenda.”

The Biden administration has struggled for months to reconcile data that shows falling inflation rates and steady job growth with the fact that consumers do not feel the increased buying power that typically accompanies a strong economy.

Some goods have lower price tags, like Thanksgiving turkeys, and consumer spending is still strong, judging from Black Friday purchases.

But many Americans still report that rent and food prices are strangling their budgets, and polls show they blame Biden for this.

At the launch of a new supply chain council on Monday, the president acknowledged that consumers are still paying significantly higher prices for basic goods today than they did a few years ago.

But he also suggested people direct their frustration at corporate pricing practices.

“To any corporation that has not brought their prices back down — even as inflation has come down, even supply chains have been rebuilt — it’s time to stop the price gouging,” said Biden. “Give the American consumer a break.” 

But drawing a direct line from corporate pricing practices to how voters feel about the economy could prove challenging for the Biden White House.

As Covid-19 restrictions began to ease in 2021, consumers were ready to shop, partly thanks to extra cash from pandemic-era relief programs. But the domino effect of supply chain disruptions, coupled with higher production costs, meant many companies could not meet this pent-up demand. That sent prices soaring.

The inflation rate climbed to levels not seen in decades, peaking at 9.1% in June 2022. Consumers were furious, and polls showed many of them blamed the Biden administration.

Now, as Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign kicks into high gear and voters still disapprove of his handling of the economy, the White House has an additional incentive to pressure private industries to slash retail prices.

“Whether it’s junk fees, whether it’s price gouging, whether it’s calling out big pharma, whether it’s calling out big oil, we’re going to continue to do that,” Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

“Because of the price gouging, we see American families hurting,” she said.

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