Update (11/17/21): This piece has been updated with additional information.
Following the November 10 release of key figures that showed continued inflation, right-wing media claimed disaster for the future of the economy should the Build Back Better plan pass. This framing, which runs contrary to the testimony of experts who say the reconciliation package would achieve the opposite, is part of a continued and concerted attack by conservatives on what would be a historic investment in a broad range of social programs.
The consumer price index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed an increase of 6.2% in inflation since October 2020. The cause for inflation cannot be tied to one factor, but experts say that it is in large part due to COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions. Additionally, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen continue to say that while inflation has been more persistent than expected, the current inflation is still likely transitory and they expect it will normalize over the next year.
Conservative arguments have evolved from presenting the American Rescue Plan -- the stimulus package passed earlier this year in response to the pandemic -- as the culprit in fueling inflation to asserting that the reconciliation bill would doom the economy by flooding the market with more money, thus exacerbating the rise in prices. While conservatives have economists that back this claim, overall, economists largely agree the package would improve the economy. Even those cited by right-wing media, like economist Larry Summers, have argued that the bill would have, at most, a minor effect on inflation.
In fact, many economists, including 17 recipients of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, stated the Build Back Better agenda would actually help to “ease longer-term inflationary pressures,” with Brian Deese, White House director of the National Economic Council, saying the bill was “exactly designed to relieve those price pressures over time.” Most recently, economists and analysts at top ratings agencies told Reuters that the bill would not add any inflationary pressures. According to Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, such policies “help to lift long-term economic growth via stronger productivity and labor force growth, and thus take the edge off of inflation.”
Another prominent critic of BBB, Joe Manchin (D-WV), made negative comments about the bill that were widely echoed by right-wing media but refuted by economists. The New Republic’s Timothy Noah broke down each item in the bill, consulting with Harvard University’s Jason Furman and University of Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee, to show why blocking BBB is “not a very serious inflation-fighting strategy.”
Right-wing media largely failed to provide these dissenting views and, rather than discuss the Biden administration's attempts to relieve inflation, attempted to wield inflation as a cudgel against the reconciliation bill, as seen in these examples:
Right-wing print media and blogs
- The New York Post ran an editorial with the headline “With inflation now spiraling out of control, passing Build Back Better would be sheer insanity” that questioned why, after the inflation numbers were released, President Joe Biden was “still pushing his multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better plan, which can only make matters worse.”
- An article for The Washington Times said the inflation numbers “bolstered the arguments of economists such as Democrat and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who has been saying for most of this year that more government spending and higher taxes would ‘further stimulate an already overheating economy.’” The piece later quoted Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore as claiming “full-fledged Bidenonomics through his ‘Build Back Better’ plan will only make inflation even worse.”
- An article titled “Democrats Have Only Themselves to Blame for the Inflation Fiasco” from the National Review criticized what it said was the Biden administration’s assertion that the “best prescription to alleviate inflation was more big progressive spending,” calling it a “part of a broader trend of Democrats saying utterly absurd things about the economy.”
- An article from the Daily Wire relied entirely on comments from former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to suggest the BBB plan “would increase already-worsening inflation rates.”
- An article from Townhall claimed there were “many signs” that inflation would get worse and chastised Biden’s continuing support for the “massive new government spending program,” adding it was “hard to overstate how crazy this is.”
- Reason magazine addressed the new inflation numbers, saying that “as American workers grapple with soaring inflation—the consumer price index rose 6.2 percent since last October, the largest single-year increase in 30 years—the Biden administration has a plan: spend lots of money.”
Right-wing cable news
- Fox Business host Larry Kudlow cited “common sense” to counter the Nobel Prize-winning economists who say BBB will help stabilize inflation: “[Biden] says, ‘Oh I've got 17 Nobel prize winners who agree with me.’ I don't know who they are. I guess I could look them up. I'm not overwhelmed by these Nobel Prize winners. I mean it’s just basic common sense.”
- Democratic pollster-turned-Trump defender Mark Penn appeared on Fox to argue against BBB, claiming, “Most people think that the bill is inflationary. Because the only thing that most people know about the bill is it is somewhere between $1.75 trillion and $3.5 trillion of additional government expenditures. And, for [White House chief of staff Ron Klain] to get up there and say it reduces the cost of this, or it reduces — he knows, you know, basic economics 101 is that large expenditures from the government, or fiscal stimulus, which in a hot economy creates inflation.”
- Fox News host Sean Hannity blamed Biden’s infrastructure bill as well as general environmental policy for inflation, saying, “[Biden] has bowed at the altar of new Green New Deal socialism and that is where he is today. He decided to pursue the radical agenda of climate-obsessed elitists over poor and middle-class families that are now suffering greatly because of his policies.” Hannity continued, “He decided to push through trillions of dollars in new spending. That increases inflation.”
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham blamed the infrastructure bill that has yet to take effect for higher inflation and then warned against BBB: “This is the party with zero solutions. They only exacerbate problems. And every GOP vote for this bill, which is the companion bill to the next even worse social spending bill, ensures that current inflation lasts longer and energy prices go even higher. Now, currently the White House has zero plans to keep the latter from soaring out of control.”
- On his November 8 show, Fox anchor Neil Cavuto disagreed with Biden’s letter from Nobel Prize-winning economists that said BBB won’t contribute to inflation, citing unnamed “economists of all stripes” and “a lot of Wall Street types” that he said he spoke to.
- After calling BBB a “socialist spending orgy,” Hannity falsely claimed, “That will be $3 trillion that would be printed or just added to the debt, and inflation, of course, will continue to skyrocket on top of the historic levels of inflation all of us are now suffering through.”
- Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said it’s “totally irresponsible” for Biden to push BBB in a country “that is dealing with this type of debt, this type of open job situation, supply chain situation and inflation situation.”
Mainstream cable and online outlets
Assertions and bad faith assumptions about BBB’s impact on inflation were also found in coverage from some mainstream cable and online outlets. For example:
- While interviewing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle asked a leading question with a faulty basis: “Well, rich folks can afford inflation; poor folks can't. The human infrastructure plan is a massive investment that would create long-term solutions, but it does run the risk of creating even more inflation and that is a huge problem right now. Are you OK with spiking it to get things passed?”
- Ruhle also said Democrats’ losses in Virginia might be blamed on inflation and BBB, saying, “Is there an argument to be made, maybe people were voting against Build Back Better, right? The more spending, the more people are concerned about inflation and the economy is the number one issue for all sorts of people.”
- Axios’ coverage of Manchin’s comments addressing the inflation numbers opened with the claim that “red-hot inflation data validates the instinct of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to punt President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda until next year.”
- An article from NBC News solely quoted Manchin on how his “concerns about rising inflation” were “one of his main roadblocks in supporting President Joe Biden's social spending and climate package.” The article provided no pushback or countering opinions.
- An article from Business Insider quoted Democratic lawmakers and asked the White House about Manchin’s refusal to back the BBB plan but also did not offer any dissenting opinions to address his claims that the package would worsen inflation.
- An op-ed for The Hill said BBB and the infrastructure bill were “unprecedented threats to American national security and economic stability and must be stopped now,” followed by the claim that BBB “could break America’s back by spurring an ever-larger surge in inflation.” An earlier op-ed from the outlet, published before the new numbers were released, said the “cost of what should be called the Build Back Better Broke plan is increased inflation.”