Rep. Abigail Spanberger has been sounding the inflation alarm for nearly a year. But sometimes it was like she was screaming into the void.
As she pointed to rising prices at her local grocery stores, Democratic figures including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argued inflation would be “transient” and wane sooner rather than later. But that prediction didn’t ring true, a fact Yellen acknowledged earlier this month.
Now with inflation figures last week showing prices up 8.6% year-on-year, food up 10.8% in April and gasoline prices on average of 5 gallons, Spanberger organizes a final sprint for the Democrats. Something before the November elections.
“You don’t wait to see if the problem is more permanent than people suspect before you try to deal with it. And so, you know, even in the early discussions, is this inflation going to be transitory? Is it related to supply chain disruptions? Which, of course, of course it is,” Spanberger said.
“But, you know, does this relationship mean it’s going to be less long term?”
The Virginia Democrat said her town halls and meetings rarely go by without voters asking about the issue. His newly redesigned district includes an area heavily traveled by commuters, which means gas prices are hitting his constituency like a brick and, therefore, are also a priority.
“When you have a county that’s a few hundred square miles, that means they’re driving into Richmond or Charlottesville and it’s miles and miles down the road,” she said. “And so the price of fuel from about a month ago, when it was in the $4 range, and now it’s up to $5, that makes a huge difference.”
His road to re-election has never been easy. Since defeating former GOP Rep. David Brat in 2018, Spanberger, a moderate, has been a prime target for Republicans. In November 2020, she berated the party’s left flank for “Defund the Police” and “socialism” during a private call to the Democratic caucus, according to CNNnaming him as a factor that made his difficult run even more difficult.
This year is no different. His seat is called a Democratic “draw” by Bake the political reportindicating that it is slightly in his favor, but not by much.
Party strategists fear economic concerns may be the issue tipping the scales against loose Democrats this cycle.
Spanberger’s own family reduced their usual shopping route as food prices continued to soar.
“He ran to buy things,” Spanberger said of her husband, “and said, ‘You know, I think we’ve completely pivoted to this grocery store instead of this grocery store because the price difference is getting to more and more clear. ‘”
“And, you know, and there’s inflation in both places. A little more about the things we usually buy,” she added.
Republicans have claimed inflation is solely the result of Democratic spending sprees, with many fingers pointing at the US bailout and bipartisan infrastructure framework passed last year.
Spanberger dismissed this line of criticism.
“My answer is, well, what small business owner shouldn’t have received PPP? What restaurant should we have dropped out of and not donated funds for restaurant revitalization?”
“You know, I understand hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, we can have a conversation about, have we invested more money in the economy than necessary? Have we made more recovery efforts than necessary? But just as hindsight is 20/20, there are many people who will argue that we didn’t do enough after the last recession.
Other so-called “frontline members,” the slogan of House Democrats who stand to lose their seats in November, must make similar arguments. A Pew Research survey in May found that 7 out of 10 Americans see inflation as a “really big problem”. When broken down by party, 84% of Republicans see it as a big deal, compared to 54% of Democrats.
At a press conference last week to promote Spanberger’s new legislative package to tackle high food and gas prices, his colleagues in similar re-election positions lined up on the podium begging for action.
“Every day I’m in my district, I hear constituents say they’re struggling to make ends meet,” Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) said of her fairly urban southeastern district. western Iowa. “To my colleagues who prefer to play the blame game upstairs and spend all day tweeting and spending all night on cable news, if you are not part of the solution, then please, stop pointing fingers,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer said. (D-NJ), a notoriously moderate House Democrat, said
“We know this inflation is unsustainable,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) told the room. The neighborhood of Pappas swings frequently between parties and is considered a “heads or tails” siege.
Spanberger’s package, which includes a slew of policies targeting meat and fuel prices, passed the House on Friday by a vote of 221 to 204. Some of the policy proposals weren’t new, but hadn’t not gained ground until recent events.
Further to the left on the political spectrum, progressive Democrats have increasingly labeled corporate America as the enemy and cause of rising prices, having in the past argued that a social spending bill like Build Back Better would be the solution. They said rising gasoline prices are the result of oil conglomerates taking advantage of shortages to their advantage and food prices not entirely different.
Spanberger says that’s not inherently wrong. Part of its new legislative package even targets monopolistic meat companies, believing that increased competition will help drive down prices.
But corporate America cannot serve as an inflation boogeyman, she said.
“We can’t oversimplify and just say, ‘Oh, it’s that bad actor. It’s their fault. It’s all their fault,” Spanberger told The Daily Beast. “Because it’s too easy. Nothing is that simple.”
Democratic strategists from all walks of life agree that inflation is a problem for Democrats in what is already expected to be a dreadful year for the party. They are expected to lose the House and the Senate is a toss up, with historical trends and the President’s approval rating working strongly against them.
Jim Kessler, executive vice president of the moderate Democratic think tank Third Way, does not deny that rising costs are a problem for the party. “You have to convince voters that you have a plan, it’s going to work, it’s going to take time…none of that is easy,” he said.
But Kessler argues that there is plenty counter-messages to have.
In the wake of rising gun violence and a potential Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Kessler thinks anger will drive voters, especially suburban women, to the polls. Explosive revelations from the ongoing House Select Committee hearings on Jan. 6 also continue to drop, at times affecting House Republicans.
“It’s an election that’s going to have a lot of cross-currents,” he said.