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Boozman, other Senate Republicans air concerns about rise in prices

by Ryan Tarinelli | November 18, 2021 at 6:42 a.m.
FILE - U.S. Sen. John Boozman speaks to media, Friday, August 7, 2020 at Northside Elementary School in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and other Senate Republicans lambasted rising consumer prices Wednesday and blamed the Biden administration for soaring inflation.

Their remarks come days after the federal government reported that the consumer price index surged 6.2% in October compared with a year before, marking the largest 12-month increase in about three decades. The index measures the change in prices for consumer goods and services.

Republicans slammed the rising prices during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, saying the inflation is on display as families prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday next week.

Lawmakers are not seeing leadership on the issue, Boozman said.

"The problem is nothing's being done," said Boozman, who is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. "No pathway is set by Democrats in Congress."

"We simply are asleep at the switch, and this is greatly affecting real people," he said.

The Arkansas Republican also criticized the Biden administration's approach to the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. Biden revoked its permit on his first day as president.

That's an example, Boozman said, of a move that raises the price of fuel.

The GOP lawmakers used the inflation issue to argue against the Biden administration's social spending bill, which Democrats in Congress are working to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back against those arguments. Passing the Biden administration's social spending bill would be the best way to combat inflation and create more jobs, particularly at a time where so many companies are down employees, he said.

"Stronger growth, less inflation. I'll say it again. If you want to fight inflation, if you want to lower costs and grow the economy, support Build Back Better," Schumer said, referencing the name for Biden's spending package.

The New York Democrat touted the package, saying it would lower prescription drug costs, make child care more affordable and provide parents with a tax break.

Last week, the Labor Department reported that prices rose for food, new vehicles and transportation services in October compared to the year prior. Prices for gasoline soared by about 50%, the department reported.

The consumer price index for food at home was up 5.4% in October compared to a year before and the government figures showed increases in prices for cereals and bakery products, fruits and vegetables and meats, poultry, fish and eggs.

In a television interview, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said high inflation is affecting citizens' outlook. But he argued that the concern highlights the need for movement on the social spending bill.

"This bill is actually going to address the core costs that American families are facing in child care, in housing, in health care," he said.

The rising consumer prices are colliding with -- what Arkansas business leaders describe -- as a tight labor market in which companies are looking to fill openings and stave off attrition within their ranks.

Earlier this month, Raymond Burns, president and CEO of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, said seemingly every employer he talks to is having a hard time finding workers.

Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, said earlier this month that there's a serious workforce shortage in Northwest Arkansas. Restaurants, he said, have been known to cut back on their operating hours because of a lack of labor.

Boozman has heard about the labor issues, too.

"It doesn't matter if I'm in the biggest city or the smallest city in Arkansas, the first thing that comes up is labor, to the point that many businesses are actually restricting the hours that they're open because they can't find help," he said.

Other times, it's clear that businesses are short staffed due to lines and wait times, he said.

CORRECTION: U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and other Senate Republicans held a news conference Wednesday on rising consumer prices and inflation. The day of the event was incorrect in an earlier version of this article.

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