New inflation numbers just dropped, and somehow a 6.5% hike in prices over the last year is good news. It was down from 7.1% year over year in November, and the New York Times reports it's the lowest annual inflation rate since October 2021. It appears that inflation is cooling off, driven by drops in airfares and gas prices. Remember when high gas prices were top of the news, day after day? The nationwide average for a gallon of regular gasoline hit $5 back on June 13, a massive problem in a country like the United States that is so completely devoted to automobiles. Americans love nothing more than to blame the president for anything that's happening. In our collective imagination, he's sitting in the Oval Office presiding over a series of levers and buttons marked "GAS PRICES" and "UNEMPLOYMENT." But the extent to which the gas spike became Joe Biden's fault was something to behold.
Republicans slammed the president on gas throughout the 2022 midterm campaign, and you'd expect nothing else from the party out of power. Democrats likely did add a couple of points to inflation with the American Rescue Plan, as they overshot the mark while trying to learn the lessons of a Great Recession stimulus bill that was too small. (Mind you, the bill also cut child poverty in half.) But it's less clear what Biden did to spike the gas. When we asked eight Republican Senate candidates for their plans to lower gas prices during the campaign, they mostly cited Biden's decision to block the Keystone XL Pipeline (and a general reluctance to sanction more oil and gas pipelines) and his slowdown on permits to drill for oil and gas on federal lands. None of this had much to do with the June 2022 spike in gas—particularly compared to supply shocks coming out of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or OPEC—or would do much to affect gas prices in the short term, but they were at least policy prescriptions.
Biden did take some action, like begging the OPEC types to pump more oil and opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but it's hard to credit him for the drop in prices. That's because his control over this global commodity is limited. Now that gas has fallen to just over $3 a gallon, though, nobody seems to mention gas prices much at all. You certainly won't see many local news reporters standing in front of a gas station price board today.
Republicans have mostly just backed away from talking about the issue, which is fine—that's politics—but where be the Lamestream Media? The biased liberals who spent the last year pretending to believe Biden was responsible for gas prices and Republicans running on the issue would get it fixed if the public delivered them congressional majorities? Biden did not follow the Republican playbook to lower prices, but they're lower. Republicans failed to take the Senate, secured a slim and nutty majority in the House that has prioritized bills on IRS funding and abortion, and gas prices are down. Are we just all going to move on, because to acknowledge gas prices fell without dramatic policy change would be to acknowledge this entire framing for the campaign has fallen apart? Maybe "things going slightly better" just isn't a sexy story.
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