The bacon in your Brussels sprouts will cost you 29% more this year. Mashed potatoes prices almost doubled compared to three years ago, and the price of the liquid soap detergent to scrub everything down is bubbling up.
As Democratic messaging on the economy has floundered, Sen. Bob Casey is trying something else: acknowledging the price pain.
“If you just skip over or fail to engage with constituents or voters on the question of what they’re paying for when they go to the grocery store, you’re just not going to have much of a conversation with them,” Casey said. “It’s vital for the Democrats to do that.”
The mild-mannered senator, known for explaining Pennsylvania electoral politics with a homemade map on an easel, has two reports out this month on “greedflation,” which aim to provide Pennsylvanians feeling pinched and pessimistic about the country’s finances with the numbers behind their economic woes.
The reports come as Democrats have struggled mightily to message effectively on the economy and look to shift away blame Republicans have successfully directed their way. Bidenomics, the branded catchall term for President Joe Biden’s legislative accomplishments, has largely failed to resonate headed into 2024, when the economy will be a big issue for Biden and Casey, who will likely face GOP opponent Dave McCormick, a former hedgefund CEO.
“As much as we have a great deal to talk about what’s happened in the last … three years now, with Democratic support and the president’s leadership, it’s just not going to land very well to grab a voter by the shoulders and start reading to them a list of accomplishments,” Casey said. “We need to not just focus on the problem, but what’s been driving it.”
The latest installment, “A Greedflation report: stuffing their pockets,” has a Thanksgiving theme and argues corporations are price gouging even in the face of record profits. Casey aims to redirect blame for expensive grocery bills from the federal government to corporations.
Casey’s report, which includes data from 2022 when Thanksgiving meals eclipsed this year’s cost estimates, outlines specific items that have gone up in price compared with the escalating profit enjoyed by the corporations producing those goods. Corporate profits rose 75% from 2020 to 2022, Casey argues in the report, which is five times greater than inflation during the same period.
Republicans continue to attack Biden’s pandemic-era spending for causing inflation. It’s a topic that McCormick is already campaigning on.
“Bob Casey is such a rubber stamp for the failed policies of Joe Biden and Bidenomics that he is in denial about what caused inflation — massive government spending,” McCormick said in response to Casey’s ‘greedflation,’ report.
Casey’s report highlights price-gouging up and down the Thanksgiving menu. While turkey prices are down this year from 2022, families are still paying higher prices than in 2020, the report found. Here are other bites out of the Thanksgiving meal outlined in Casey’s report:
Chicken prices rose 38% since January 2020, twice as much as inflation, which rose 19%, the report found. Meanwhile, Tyson Foods, the largest producer of chicken in the country, doubled its profits in the final quarter of 2021 and reported record sales and earnings in 2022.
Pork chop costs are up 28% since 2020 and bacon prices are up 29%. Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the United States, made profits of more than $1 billion in 2021, which then grew 34% to $1.4 billion in 2022, according to the report.
Potato costs are up more than 60% compared to last year, due in part to the season’s smallest crop since 2010.
Huggies diaper prices are up 6% while production costs fell by $75 million.
Palmolive dish soap costs increased 12% between the first quarter of 2022 and first quarter 2023.
Shifting the narrative
Polling shows Americans think the economy is in the tank, and Democrats have started expressing concern about the effectiveness of Biden’s “Bidenomics” messaging.
Despite positive trends — unemployment is at a record low in Pennsylvania and inflation has stalled — the prices of certain goods and groceries remain high. Polls, meanwhile, show Americans’ perception of the economy is terrible, and their faith in Biden on the issue is only decreasing.
By labeling a portfolio that includes Biden’s legislative accomplishments, from infrastructure improvements to manufacturing jobs, “Bidenomics,” the president could be inadvertently taking credit for something that people are unhappy about.
Asked if he thought the Bidenomics branding was effective, Casey said Democrats should talk about what’s behind the label. “I prefer to talk about policies, not attach names of elected officials. I just think it becomes a distraction. People focus on the name rather than the policies.
A solution without much bipartisan hope
Casey said Congress could do several things to drive down costs, including passing antitrust legislation to break up corporate monopolies and raising the minimum wage.
He’s hoping an expansion of the child tax credit, which increased during the pandemic but has since returned to pre-pandemic levels, could be in the cards as a bipartisan bill.
The initial expansion passed without any Republican votes, but Casey said he’s heard interest on both sides about how it helped families cover rising costs. Democrats could in turn back an enhanced version of the research and development tax credit afforded to businesses.
“It’s so pervasive … that people in both parties are hearing about it,” Casey said. “And it’s easy in Washington to say, well, prices are high for this or that and then just put it into a political lane and start blaming one party versus the other. I think the evidence is overwhelming. We can document that the corporate profits in the last couple of years is driving a lot of the inflation … so … I think there’s a reasonable likelihood that we can make progress on some of these ideas.”