President Biden met with Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, at the White House on Tuesday, as part of an effort to both sell Americans on a brightening view of the economy and reassure consumers that leaders in Washington are hard at work to slow rapidly rising prices.
White House officials cast the visit as a chance for Mr. Biden, who nominated Mr. Powell for a second term as Fed chair late last year, to congratulate him on his recent Senate confirmation. It is also the start of a monthlong attempt to convince the public that inflation is coming under control and the economy is performing far better than Mr. Biden’s polling numbers would suggest.
Speaking to reporters at the start of the meeting, which also included Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, a former Fed chair, Mr. Biden reiterated that fighting inflation is his top economic priority and that he would not interfere with the Fed as it tries to tame rising prices.
That fight, Mr. Biden said, “starts with a simple proposition: respect the Fed, respect the Fed’s independence, which I have done and will continue to do.”
The president added that Mr. Powell “and other members of the Fed have noted at this moment they have been laser focused on addressing inflation like I am.”
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Mr. Biden’s stance puts Mr. Powell in what could be an awkward position. The president has repeatedly said he respects the Fed’s independence to set monetary policy and will not cajole the central bank to change interest rates, like his predecessor, former President Donald J. Trump, loved to do. But Mr. Biden has also made clear that he expects the Fed to tame inflation without plunging the economy into recession, a combination that could be difficult for Mr. Powell to pull off.
Inflation in the United States is running near its fastest pace in four decades, with prices rising for gas, food and rent. While price pressures have shown early signs of abating, it is unclear how large and sustainable that decline will be given ongoing kinks in global supply chains and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Americans have become pessimistic about the economy and their own financial prospects as their paychecks have failed to keep up with inflation. The squeeze hitting consumers comes at a tough time for the White House and Democrats, as the November midterm elections approach and voters cite inflation and the cost of living as top economic concerns.
Mr. Biden has consistently sounded a far more optimistic tone than the broader public on the economy, stressing month after month of rapid job growth — and an ensuing plunge in the unemployment rate — as the country recovers from the pandemic recession.
After more than a year of watching inflation rise faster than his economic advisers projected, the president in recent weeks has attempted to sound a more urgent tone when promising to do everything in his power to slow rising costs.
What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
Top economic officials in the administration fanned out across cable news programs on Tuesday to hammer the message that job growth has rebounded strongly and the economy is transitioning to a more stable growth rate — and lower inflation.
Mr. Biden stressed those points in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published online Monday evening, in which he stressed wealth gains for typical Americans on his watch and declared “The U.S. is in a better economic position than almost any other country.” He promised to fight inflation by reducing the federal budget deficit, working to repair broken global supply chains and pass legislation to reduce energy costs for families and relying on the Fed.
“With the right policies,” he wrote, “the U.S. can transition from recovery to stable, steady growth and bring down inflation without giving up all these historic gains.”