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7 Jul, 2022 00:21

Biden doubles down on ‘Putin tax’

The US president has expanded his argument, blaming Russia’s leader for high prices
Biden doubles down on ‘Putin tax’

President Joe Biden has again blamed his Russian counterpart for causing the highest inflation rate in 40 years, this time claiming that Vladimir Putin is causing prices all across the US to surge partly by disrupting grain exports from Ukraine.

“We've got a long way to go because of inflation, because of – I call it the Putin tax increase – Putin because of gasoline and all that grain he’s keeping from being able to get to the market,” Biden said on Wednesday in a speech to a union group in Ohio.

For months, the US president has been blaming Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine for soaring inflation, calling it “Putin’s price hike.” Biden’s argument has focused on record gasoline and diesel prices, although the US and some of its Western allies chose to punish Moscow by halting their Russian energy imports. Wednesday’s speech expanded on the claim by also citing grain shipments, though Biden didn’t spell out how such a disruption would stoke inflation in the US, the world’s largest grain exporter.

Ukraine accounts for about 5% of the world’s grain exports. The ongoing conflict has trapped some 20 million tons of wheat and other grains in the country’s ports, however. Kiev has accused Russia of “stealing” its grain, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed Moscow was “using food as a weapon.” 

While Western nations have accused Russia of blockading Ukrainian ports, Moscow has repeatedly stated it would guarantee safe passage for the grain shipments if Kiev clears its ports of mines, and suggested exporting the grain through the Russian-controlled ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol.

Inflation has emerged as a key issue weighing on Biden’s popularity heading into this year’s midterm congressional elections. He has repeatedly tried to shift blame for the crisis, often pointing at Putin but also citing Republicans, the Covid-19 pandemic, and oil companies, among other alleged culprits.

On Wednesday, he told the union audience in Cleveland that he will drive down prices for fuel, food, healthcare, and prescription drugs if Republican lawmakers don’t stand in his way.

“I’m fighting like hell to lower costs on things that you talk about around your kitchen table,” he said. “My dad used to say, at the end of the day, when you sit at that table, do you have enough money to pay for everything you need? Not a lot over, do you have enough money to pay for everything you need?”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans fear that they won’t be able to afford “day-to-day things,” according to a YouGov-CBS News poll released last week. About 69% said they expect the US economy to slow down or slide into a full-blown recession within the next year.