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The US is seeing the worst monthly inflation numbers in 40 years

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Used cars, gas, fuel oil, food all cost more. The U.S. is seeing the worst monthly inflation numbers in 40 years. That is, of course, a day-to-day problem for families who struggle to make ends meet, and it's a political problem for the Biden administration. So that's where we'll begin this hour. Scott Detrow, an NPR White House correspondent, joins us. Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Anyone who remembers the 1970s and '80s - I certainly do - knows that high inflation can be a political problem for incumbent presidents. Let me put it nicely. How is the White House contending with this?

DETROW: We did get a sense of just how worried the administration was about this new report the day before it came out on Thursday when key staffers were flooding the zone to talk about all of the good economic indicators out there. Biden's top economic adviser, Brian Deese, came out to the briefing room, and he had a lot of charts with him, and he talked to us reporters for 40 minutes.

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BRIAN DEESE: We have seen very strong labor market developments, and those labor market developments are coupled by strong developments in overall economic growth and in household income and demand.

DETROW: And look; there are some good signs in this very strange economy. Unemployment claims and unemployment rates have significantly dropped. The stock market and a lot of corporate earnings are up. But after months of really dismissing inflation as a passing thing, it is now very real. It's very serious. And voters are noticing.

SIMON: So what is the White House doing about inflation to try and slow or stop it in addition to anything they told you for 40 minutes at a briefing?

DETROW: We should point out that even though a president gets a lot of the blame, a lot of inflation is out of his control. And an administration really has limited tools to deal with it, especially when it comes to the short term. The administration has pointed to federal efforts to speed up traffic at clogged ports. Biden released 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve. And we are increasingly hearing the president argue that his Build Back Better legislation, that wide-ranging bill still stuck in the Senate, would help with inflation.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Now, if they're paying considerably less for child care, considerably less for health care, considerably less for insulin, considerably less - and go down the list - of being able to take care of a parent - all the things that are in the Build Back Better plan. The reason why people think it's going to - economists think it's going to, in fact, diminish the impact on inflation is because it's reducing costs for ordinary people.

DETROW: This seems to be a pretty tough sell for the audience that really matters the most here, who, of course, is West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Manchin has made it clear he is really worried about inflation. Even though this particular bill would spread out spending over the course of several years, Manchin has regularly noted all of the trillion dollar-plus laws that Biden has signed already this year, and Manchin says he's worried that some of that spending made inflation worse.

SIMON: We've been talking about Senator Manchin and this bill for months now. What's the latest?

DETROW: The latest twist - Biden says he's going to be speaking to Manchin early next week. No details on whether that's a White House meeting or a phone call. Remember; this bill has already passed the House. It's now in front of the Senate. The White House and Democratic congressional leaders are adverse to setting new deadlines after having us talk about all of the deadlines that have been blown when it comes to this bill. But every public comment that Manchin made this week made it pretty clear he still has a lot of concerns, and he seems nowhere close to being a yes vote.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.