PHILADELPHIA — House Democrats received another dose of bad economic news Thursday at their annual retreat in Philadelphia, as the government announced inflation hit an annual rate of 7.9% last month, complicating still the hopes of the Democrats to maintain their narrow majority in November.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign arm, acknowledged that rising gas prices could be a problem for the party as it hits voters’ wallets. Amid 40-year high inflation and the war between Russia and Ukraine, the national average for a gallon of gasoline in the United States hit $4.31 on Thursday.
“It’s a real problem,” Mr Maloney told reporters. “We need to focus on this not for political reasons, but because it affects middle-class working families like the ones so many of us grew up in.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said inflation was a challenge, but she blamed it on supply chain issues that have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
“We have supply chain issues. Everyone knows that,” Ms Jayapal said. “I think inflation is sometimes a consequence that we have to overcome.”
Republicans are making it clear that they intend to make inflation a top campaign issue in the fall.
“House Democrats have no reason to be optimistic, which is why so many of them have retired. Voters know that Democratic policies are to blame for soaring inflation, skyrocketing violent crime and a growing border crisis,” said Mike Berg, spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee.
Still, House Democrats say they hope to maintain their narrow majority this fall, despite additional frustrations over their stalled social agenda. They cited strong fundraising numbers and victories on passing COVID relief and other smaller bills as successes they can promote to voters ahead of midterms.
Mr Maloney said Democrats are in an optimistic position when it comes to campaign money and general redistricting maps in the country.
“I want to make sure people understand that we beat them when it comes to fundraising,” Mr Maloney told reporters. “There are outside groups raising a lot of money, and we want to take that very seriously, [but] we outperform them both on the direct run and on the money available.
The president said vulnerable Democratic candidates have an advantage of about $80 million over GOP opponents.
Despite the money the majority party has secured, lawmakers fear their failure to deliver on important promises like the right to vote and expanding social programs could wipe out support in November.
Ms Jayapal said her party’s main aim was to get back to the priorities of the $2 trillion Build Back Better Bill, which she called ‘Voldemort’ – the Harry Potter villain who she says should not be named.
Ms. Jayapal was instrumental in negotiating the Build Back Better bill which ultimately failed in the Senate due to opposition from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. No Republican supported him.
“We’re going to try to get almost everything that’s small, it’s doable, it’s important,” Ms Jayapal said. “We will try to do them, but we will continue to work on the big bills.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, further emphasized the need to push through these social priorities if Democrats are to have any success in November.
“It’s important,” Mr. Bowman told reporters. “We’ve talked about it a million times, universal child care, everything that was in BBB, as much as we can do and cross the finish line, we have to do it.”
Approximately 100 caucus members are in their annual retreat. Mr. Biden will close the conference with a speech on Friday.