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In Illinois visit, Biden to take aim at farm costs

The President presented US efforts to step up agricultural production as a patriotic endeavor to offset the effects of the war in Ukraine.

“American farmers are the breadbasket of democracy,” he said.

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April’s consumer price index report, which rattled markets with data showing price hikes exceeding estimates, underscored the challenge facing Biden, who has seen his approval rating battered as polls show Americans hold little confidence in his ability to tame inflation.

Biden called inflation “unacceptably high” in a statement Wednesday, but put the onus for combating prices on the Federal Reserve.

Biden said he agrees with Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s assessment that inflation is the “number one threat” to the economy, adding, “I am confident the Fed will do its job with that in mind.” Grocery prices were up 10.8% over April 2021, with meat rising 13.9% and eggs up 22.6%, in part due to an outbreak of avian flu.

In the evening, Biden spoke about the upcoming midterm elections, saying Democrats must redouble their efforts to overcome voters’ anger over inflation and to retain control of Congress by drawing sharper contrasts with Republicans.

Biden, speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Chicago, said he and his administration hadn’t done enough to tell voters about the Democrats’ accomplishments and that he planned to remedy that. He also warned of the “ultra-MAGA” agenda of the Republicans, referring to Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be hard, because inflation is going to scare the living hell out of everybody,” the president said, referring to the November elections that will decide control of Congress. “We’re making progress, but it’s going to be a way to go.”

Biden asserted that the Republican Party is increasingly committed to its hardcore pro-Trump base, and that it’s up to Democrats to let voters know the difference.

“We’ve got to take the fight to them, we’ve got to make our case and make it very strong, and we have a strong record to run on,” he said. “You’re going to hear me talking a lot more about not only what we’ve done, but what they’re trying to do.”

Biden said Democrats could gain three Senate seats in the fall midterm elections, and increase their narrow House majority, but conceded that will be difficult as inflation runs hot. Polls have indicated that Democrats are at risk of losing both.

The core consumer price index, which excludes food and energy, increased 0.6% from March and 6.2% from April 2021. Stocks dropped, with the S&P 500 down about 0.5% as of 2:45 pm in New York. Two-year Treasury note yields, which are more sensitive to changes in monetary policy, were up about 3 basis points after surging as much as 13 basis points earlier.

The White House seeks to address the growing cost of groceries with new initiatives aimed at encouraging more planting and harvesting of food. Food inflation has been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted one of the world’s great breadbaskets, an especially important source of wheat and other grains and cooking oil.

One new measure will expand eligibility for crop insurance for farmers who plant twice on the same land in the same year.

“My administration is looking at how to extend crop insurance coverage to give financial security to farmers,” Biden said.

Americans have been particularly hard hit by surges in retail costs for beef and other meat, triggering Democratic allegations of profiteering against the giant packing companies that dominate meat processing in the US. Four companies slaughtered 85% of grain-fattened cattle in 2018, according to the USDA.

“Only four big companies, by the way, control more than half the markets for beef, pork and poultry,” Biden said. “Without meaningful competition, our farmers and ranchers have to pay whatever the four big retailers say.”

Meatpacking executives attribute the price increases to difficulty recruiting workers for slaughterhouses and higher transportation and feed costs for cattle and other livestock. Tyson Foods Inc., the largest US meat company by sales, disclosed this week that it has been subpoenaed in an inquiry of its pricing practices from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James.

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