Opinion: Democrats struggle with high inflation, rising gas prices

June 7, 2022 Atalnta - A customer pumps gas at Shell gas station, where the price of gasoline approaches close to $6 a gallon, on Peachtree Road near Piedmont Atlanta Spine Center in Buckhead on Tuesday, June 6, 2022. Georgia gas prices hit new heights on Tuesday, according to AAA, with an average statewide cost of $4.33 for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel. That’s still well below the national average of $4.92 per gallon.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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June 7, 2022 Atalnta - A customer pumps gas at Shell gas station, where the price of gasoline approaches close to $6 a gallon, on Peachtree Road near Piedmont Atlanta Spine Center in Buckhead on Tuesday, June 6, 2022. Georgia gas prices hit new heights on Tuesday, according to AAA, with an average statewide cost of $4.33 for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel. That’s still well below the national average of $4.92 per gallon.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

American elections have long been defined by campaigns that are focused on ‘pocketbook’ issues. James Carville’s famous line in 1992 — “It’s the economy, stupid” — might well apply for the 2022 midterms, too.

And right now, that’s not good news for President Biden or Democrats.

The latest review from the pollsters at Gallup this week had a very blunt message: “Usual Midterm Indicators Very Unfavorable for Democrats.” Gallup said signs point to a ‘greater-than-average loss of seats for the Democratic Party this fall.’

While the U.S. economy is still creating jobs at a good clip, and unemployment is very low at 3.6 percent — consumers are being buffeted by high inflation, rising food prices, and record gasoline prices.

And Republicans are trying their best to hammer that message home to the voters.

“In 2018, Senator Chuck Schumer said the President was to blame for high gas prices,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, citing a time when gas was at $3.89 a gallon.

“Today, gas prices are over $5,” Allen said, “and Democrats are silent.”

Democrats have done little in Congress to deal with the jump in oil prices, rejecting GOP calls to pass bills to expand domestic oil production, and balking at the idea of temporarily dropping the 18.3 cent per gallon federal gas tax.

“We’ve got to pass my federal gas tax relief bill,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. “Georgians need help now.”

That was back in February. Four months later, Warnock is no closer to getting a vote on that bill, as top Democrats have not warmed to his idea, emblematic of their limited legislative options.

The House did pass a bill that lets the Federal Trade Commission crack down on gasoline price gouging. But that’s not becoming law anytime soon, leaving Democrats mainly to cast blame on the greed of Big Oil — and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but that jawboning has had little impact.

“The American people simply cannot afford Joe Biden’s disastrous economic agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

On higher gas prices, the basic GOP answer is to increase domestic oil supplies — but that’s already happening. U.S. production is forecast to go up 1.3 million barrels per day in 2022, and another 1.4 million barrels per day in 2023.

But the extra oil supply may not help much, as U.S. oil refinery capacity has dropped by almost one million barrels per day since 2020.

In other words, gas prices may remain very high no matter what Congress does — which may not be a formula for success for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com