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They’re still sticking with this dopey talking point, huh?

Putin’s war is contributing to inflation. The western ban on Russian oil imports has cut the supply of gas and Black Sea mines are preventing cargo ships from exporting Ukrainian grain, to the extent Russia isn’t plundering the available inventory.

But all sentient beings know that inflation was on its way up long before Putin made his move on Kiev in late February. Inflation fears were the key reason Joe Manchin tanked the Build Back Better bill last fall, months before Russia’s invasion. This isn’t all Putin’s fault:

This isn’t all Putin’s fault either:

And certainly this isn’t all his fault:

Even the bit of good news shared in the clip by Biden comes with caveats. Core inflation is still very high, it’s just fallen ever so slightly recently:

The White House has a problem. Their problem is that inflation is not just a diabolical political problem, it’s also a problem that’s unusually hard to spin. Typically the ruling party will grasp for ways to blame it on the prior administration, but inflation didn’t begin to bite until the fall of Biden’s first year. There are no silver-bullet legislative solutions either. Apart from lifting tariffs (which would piss off organized labor), the White House is essentially at the mercy of the Fed and the global supply chain. For the president, it’s a double whammy — he gets the blame for the crisis *and* looks ineffectual in flailing at ways to ease it.

The Times aptly described inflation as the “problem from hell” on Wednesday in a story about the White House’s struggle to manage it. If “Putin price hike” is still the best spin they’ve got, they’re in grave trouble.

When it became clear that rising costs were lasting, administration officials began to diverge internally on how to frame that phenomenon. While it was clear that much of the upward pressure on prices came from supply chain shortages exacerbated by continued waves of the coronavirus, some of it also tied back to strong consumer demand. That big spending had been enabled, in part, by the government’s stimulus packages, including direct checks to households, expanded unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Some economists in the White House have begun to emphasize that inflation was a trade-off: To the extent that Mr. Biden’s stimulus spending spurred more inflation, it also aided economic growth and a faster recovery…

Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged in an interview last week that there were some disagreements among White House economic officials when it came to how to talk about and respond to inflation, but he portrayed that as a positive — and as something that is not leading to any kind of dysfunction.

This sums up the evolution in messaging:

As for Deese himself, he’s sticking with … “Putin price hike.”

“Whatever Washington has done to try to fix the cost of living crisis in America, it isn’t working,” said one economic researcher this morning, eyeballing the new inflation report. “This isn’t just Russia and Ukraine anymore.”

The truly crazy part is that it could have been worse. If not for Joe Manchin slamming the brakes on the Biden agenda, another ocean of cash would be spilling into the economy, driving demand higher. Michael Brendan Dougherty salutes the Democrats’ maverick on behalf of a grateful America:

Even the scaled-down version of Build Back Better was causing economic commentators to worry about its effect on inflation. “The House bill as currently drafted will add ~$200 billion to next year’s deficit alone. I don’t see how we can do that when inflation is 2-3x our target,” said Ben Ritz, the director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future. The head of Bank of America’s global economics research predicted, “It will make the labor market even hotter and create even more price pressure.”

Claims that Build Back Better had counterinflationary measures, such as increased taxes, tend to ignore the fact that many of these “pay-fors” were never meant to be implemented, only to act as budgeting smoke and mirrors to give wavering politicians such as Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema cover.

You can imagine progressives reading that and thinking that the party’s going to get obliterated this fall anyway, even with Manchin having mitigated the inflation problem somewhat. In which case, if they were destined to take their medicine at the polls either way, they should have passed BBB when they had the chance. Who cares if working-class families can’t afford groceries anymore?

By the way, has it occurred to Biden yet that the “Putin price hike” spin may be inadvertently convincing Americans that his support for Ukraine is the root of all our problems? If only we cut off the tap of weapons to Kiev and started buying Russian oil again, people might reason, steak would be less than 30 bucks per pound and Americans could fill up their cars. None of that is true, but in his haste to pass the buck for the country’s inflationary misery, he’s going to end up talking swing voters into becoming isolationists. Sorry, Zelensky.