President Joe Biden’s nominee for the White House’s chief economist put the spotlight on one of his administration’s biggest economic challenges.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, was questioned by both Democratic and Republican senators on the Banking Committee during a confirmation hearing for his appointment to the council’s chair on Tuesday. During that hearing, Republicans highlighted his past remarks about inflation, which has remained a sore spot for the Biden administration.
As the global economy sought to recover from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. economy was hit by substantial inflation that led to record-high prices for American consumers. This inflation became a political minefield for Biden, who has faced criticism from Republicans over his COVID-19 stimulus packages they argue led to rising inflation. Others, however, say inflation was driven by external factors such as lingering effects of the pandemic.
Inflation reached a record-high 9.1 percent in June 2022, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has cooled in recent months but still remains high compared to its pre-COVID levels. The inflation rate in March was five percent and remains a political liability for Biden.
Bernstein’s nomination gave Republicans an opportunity to highlight the high inflation rate.
Bernstein emerged as a leading voice in support of the White House’s theory that inflation was “transitory,” meaning that it would quickly return to a more steady rate following a shorter period of rapidly rising prices.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Bernstein said his previous use of transitory was “too ambiguous” but noted that inflation has dropped after being questioned on the term by Senator Katie Britt, an Alabama Republican.
“The problem with the word transitory is that it has become, I think an unhelpful, and much too ambiguous term to describe the trajectory of inflation,” he said. “It is true that that word or any other word, temporary or synonyms, suggest a condition … where inflation accelerates and then decelerates, slows down. Now, inflation peaked at 9 percent in June and most recently was seen at 5 percent. That’s its lowest annual growth rate since November 2021. So in that sense, the view of acceleration and deceleration was correct.”
He agreed that inflation has lasted longer than he anticipated when he first said it would be transitory.
Republicans seized on Bernstein’s inflation remarks to attack him ahead of the confirmation hearing.
“In a rush to implement left-wing priorities, Jared Bernstein dismissed inflation risks, called inflation ‘transitory,’ and does not think Biden should change course on economic policies, all while advocating for a far-left wishlist featuring higher gas prices, higher taxes, more IRS agents, and more abortions,” the Senate GOP wrote in a press release Monday.
While Republicans have blamed Biden’s economic policies for high prices of food, gasoline and houses, Biden has argued his administration has navigated the COVID-19 recovery the best it could. He has celebrated the lowering rates of inflation in the past few months but has also acknowledged more work needs to be done to bring down the price of goods.