Democrats and Republicans from the House Committee on Economic Disparity & Fairness in Growth are weighing how to ease the burden of rising inflation on American families in a bipartisan manner – especially in a “hyper-partisan environment.”
In a joint interview with Fox News Digital, committee Chairman Jim Himes, D-Conn., and ranking member Bryan Steil, R-Wis., reflected on their visit to Wisconsin this week, along with Democrat Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., where they met with local leaders in Milwaukee and Kenosha to discuss economic issues facing their communities.
While the lawmakers were on the ground in Wisconsin, inflation numbers were released, revealing a new four-decade high in March as Russia’s war on Ukraine fueled rapid price gains for oil and gas that wiped out the benefits of rising wages for most Americans.
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The consumer price index rose 8.5% in March from a year ago, according to the Labor Department report released Tuesday, marking the fastest increase since January 1982 when inflation hit 8.4% The CPI, which measures a bevy of goods ranging from gasoline and health care to groceries and rents, jumped 1.2% in the one-month period from January.
When asked for reaction, Himes told Fox News that there was “the real answer, then there’s the partisan, political answer.”
“The real answer is that inflation is very damaging to families. It is a tax on your wealth, and so, particularly for those families that don’t have a lot of wealth, it is a really damaging thing,” Himes told Fox News. “And we’ve reached a point where inflation is now negating some of the wage rises that we’ve seen.”
Himes claimed the U.S. economy has been “absolutely rocking right now,” citing a drop in the unemployment rate and an increase in job numbers each month, but Himes said that has “come with demand that is outpacing supply.”
“And that is the definition of inflation,” Himes said.
As for the “partisan, political answer,” Himes told Fox News that Republicans will blame President Biden.
“That answer is that it is all Joe Biden’s fault, right? Well, it’s not. We did a $5 trillion, almost $6 trillion fiscal stimulus in this country over two administrations,” Himes said. “You know, Joe Biden’s administration was responsible for roughly a third of that, but we did a massive fiscal stimulus that resulted in an economy that is performing as well as it is today, but it also resulted in inflation.”
Himes added that the “honest answer, not the partisan answer, is that the Federal Reserve was probably slow out the gate.”
“They are the ones who, through interest rate hikes, are going to moderate inflation,” Himes said. “So, again, the partisan answer is it is all Joe Biden’s fault, and that’s just factually not true.”
Himes added, though, that the Federal Reserve will “need to step in and step in big and raise rates and that is not going to be a happy thing for the American people.”
At that point, Himes warned of an increase in mortgage rates and rates that would make it “more difficult and more expensive” for people borrowing to start a business.
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Steil, the top Republican on the committee, weighed in, telling Fox News that lawmakers need to figure out what to do with those “being negatively impacted” by inflation.
“How do we find areas of agreement, in particular, reducing the pain that it is causing?” Steil said. “Inflation hurts all people.”
Steil added that inflation “uniquely hurts seniors on fixed incomes and low-income workers.”
“Low-income workers who have always been struggling to get by in the United States are uniquely challenged in this environment. We heard from people about how housing costs are rising and where rents are moving up,” Steil said.
At grocery stores, Americans have seen meat prices increase by 14.8%, fish by 10.9%, eggs by 11.2%, milk by 13.3%, fruits and vegetables by 8.1%, and coffee by 11.2% since last year.
As for gas prices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans have been paying 32% more for energy than last year, and 48% more for gasoline.
Biden, last month, announced a ban on all imports of Russian oil, gas and energy to the United States, targeting the “main artery” of Russia’s economy amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, but warned that the ban would cost American families.
Russian oil accounts for about one-third of Europe’s oil imports, but is just under 10% of U.S. overall imports.
The White House, though, is blaming Putin for the record-high gas prices in the U.S., even coining the surge as the “#PutinPriceHike” and vowing that Biden will do everything he can to shield Americans from “pain at the pump.”
Biden, on Tuesday, announced that the Environmental Protection Agency will allow E15 gasoline – gasoline that uses a 15% ethanol blend – to be sold in the United States this summer in an effort to expand Americans’ access to an affordable fuel supply amid the surge in gas prices across the nation.
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According to the White House, at current prices, E15 can save a family 10 cents per gallon of gas on average.
“The president never has controlled gasoline prices,” Himes told Fox News, pointing to calls from Republicans for Biden to re-open domestic oil production through the Keystone XL pipeline. “You know, Keystone XL, if we turned it on today, it would affect gas prices two to three years from now.”
Himes, defending the Biden administration, said it was not fair to say the surge in gas prices was “their fault.”
But Steil disagreed, telling Fox News he was “on the record saying it is Joe Biden’s fault.”
“The chairman and I can viscerally disagree on the causes and the impact of Biden’s energy policies on current energy prices, but, at the same time, people are still feeling the sting of these, and the inflationary environment we’re in,” Steil said. “So, the fact that we agree or disagree on the root causes and the reason why we got here, I think we need to discuss how we address this as it relates to making sure that everybody is able to live a good life, get a good job – or a better job – and live out the American dream.”
And Steil said that while the two won’t “agree on everything,” they can agree on “where there are areas they can work together, and how we can actually help folks in America in a hyper-partisan environment.”
“There are moments where we’re going to enter that partisan fray, but there’s also moments where we have to pause that and say, where are the areas to be successful? Are there government programs working well? Are there private sector solutions working well?”
Steil added: “These are forcing us both to recognize that sometimes there are solutions that cross traditional, political-ideological spectrums and cross Washington, D.C., talking points.”
In Wisconsin this week, Himes, Steil and Moore participated in a number of field hearings and events in Milwaukee and Kenosha, where they examined issues like affordable housing, higher education and community workforce development.
Himes told Fox News that the events were a “wonderful learning opportunity for him,” and said there are “strong commonalities” in the issues facing Americans in Milwaukee and Kenosha with what he sees in and around his own district in Connecticut.
Steil said one of the “biggest challenges” that was highlighted during the trip was “just how much work needs to be done.”
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“I think that this is true across the United States, and it gives us a perspective with which to dive in and look for those policy solutions that cut across party lines to benefit the American people,” Steil said.
In an interview with Fox News before their first joint hearing in Wisconsin, Himes said the issue of economic disparity is “too important and means too much to too many Americans for us to grandstand and suggest the problems are simple.”
“There is too much going on for Democrats to pretend we have all of the answers, and that Republicans are always wrong – it all just means too much for too many people,” Himes said. “This doesn’t mean I am any less Democrat, or ranking member Steil is any less Republican – some of the issues are easier to hear for Democrats, and some of the issues are more difficult.”
He added: “But we really want to surface all of that stuff, because no party has a monopoly on what the right answers are.”
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Himes told Fox News that the committee will continue to hold field hearings outside of Washington, D.C., saying lawmakers will “stand by what we believe, but lean heavily into areas where there is overlap, because, frankly, in this Congress, nothing is getting done without bipartisan support.”
“There is economic disparity everywhere you look,” Steil told Fox News. “It’s not a Democrat thing or a Republican thing.”