President Biden blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for high gasoline prices Friday and urged Congress to lower everyday costs for Americans by empowering Medicare to negotiate drug prices and extending supersized Obamacare subsidies and a popular tax credit for families.
Mr. Biden faces pressure to rein in runaway costs for everyday necessities such as gas in the face of supply chain disruptions and Russia’s war on Ukraine. He’s also trying to deliver on his pledge to expand health coverage and make prescription drugs more affordable.
The president said he will doggedly pursue his multitrillion-dollar plans despite fears that new spending would overheat the economy amid rising inflation. He said low unemployment and America’s historic ability to bounce back from crises make him confident the U.S. will see better days soon as it digs out from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s going to be hard for a while getting through the cost of gasoline and energy because of Putin and the war, but we’re going to do it,” Mr. Biden said at Green River College in Auburn, Washington.
At the same time, Mr. Biden complained that opposition from the GOP and select members of his party are making it difficult to pass his “Build Back Better” agenda, including the revival of an enhanced child tax credit that expired at the end of last year.
“We lack one Democrat and 50 Republicans from keeping it from passing this time around,” Mr. Biden said.
The president’s tour of the Pacific Northwest included stops in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle for Democratic fundraisers as he tries to lift party allies such as Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat from a district outside of Seattle whose race is considered a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.
Ms. Schrier attended the event with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Washington Democrats.
Republicans are using pain at the pump as a key issue in the midterm election year and say Mr. Biden hasn’t done enough to spur domestic production of oil and gas to alleviate high prices, particularly as the world cuts off Russian supply. They also argue Democrats are giving the government too big of a role in health care and have ignored quality-of-life issues such as rising crime.
“Instead of witnessing the destruction in Seattle caused by his own soft-on-crime policies and failed economic agenda, Biden has decided to meet with wealthy Democrat donors. Once again, Biden is out-of-touch with reality and Americans are left to suffer,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.
Mr. Biden largely focused on a comfort zone for Democrats — Obamacare and other health policies — in his speech Friday.
He said the Democrats’ 2021 virus-relief package made subsidies on Obamacare subsidies more generous across the board but will last only until the end of the year.
Mr. Biden’s massive social welfare plan would extend the subsidy enhancement through 2025 in a bid to sustain record enrollment in the insurance exchanges established by the 2010 health law.
Mr. Biden said an additional 240,000 people signed up for Obamacare last year in Washington state alone, underscoring the need to preserve the subsidies, and he wants to entice the dozen holdouts states into expanding Medicaid coverage for the poor.
“We need to keep this fight up,” Mr. Biden said, warning of GOP repeal attempts. “Instead of destroying the Affordable Care Act, let’s keep building on it.”
He also wants Congress to approve the part of his legislative agenda that would cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $35 per month and allow Medicare to negotiate down drug prices, an issue that polls well and could boost the enthusiasm of base voters ahead of the November elections.
“Everyone has less money in their pocket because of the high cost of health care,” Mr. Biden said. “Prescription drugs are outrageously expensive.”