President Biden speaks about the economy on Monday at the White House. Michael Robinson Chávez/The Washington Post

President Biden blasted corporate “price gouging” more forcefully this week than ever before, reflecting a renewed administration effort to respond to widespread voter discontent over the economy as next year’s election looms.

After weeks of internal meetings led by White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, Biden aides recently pitched the president on a plan to sharply rebuke firms for not lowering despite record profits, according to three people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal deliberations. The president liked the idea and quickly approved it, the people said.

The new approach comes in part as a response to consistently poor marks from voters over Biden’s handling of the economy, even though inflation is dropping from last year’s spike and as corporate profits remain surprisingly high. But the effort is not without its risks: Republicans and even some Democratic economists, for instance, largely dispute that corporate “greed” is responsible for any economywide price hikes.

In remarks Monday, Biden struck his most populist tone yet in assailing firms for not lowering prices even as supply chains have healed. “Let me be clear: To any corporation that has not brought their prices back down – even as inflation has come down, even (as) supply chains have been rebuilt – it’s time to stop the price gouging,” he said in a speech about supply chains.

On Thursday, he followed up those comments with a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, reiterating that message.

Biden’s approach was buttressed by a federal report this week that corporate profits jumped in the most recent quarter, although they had been expected to decline. Corporate profits exceeded labor costs in the most recent quarter as part of inflation for the first time in 18 months, according to Mike Konczal, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, a center-left think tank. In the most recent quarter, corporate profits accounted for slightly more than 15% of national income, representing a substantial increase from last year, when corporations earned close to $3 trillion in profit.


White House aides say the president’s remarks are part of a broader effort to pressure large companies to do more to lower prices when they can. One White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe administration thinking, pointed out that producer prices cooled markedly in October, with some firms seeing their costs decline without resulting in lower prices for consumers.

It is unclear how aggressive the president will be in his attempt to jawbone corporations over price gouging, and the White House declined to comment when asked if Biden would aim to identify specific corporations for criticism. Still, the White House official highlighted the actions of Walmart, which recently announced lower costs.

“The president will aggressively use the bully pulpit to call out the fact some companies are not passing on savings to American consumers,” the White House official said. “Even though the pandemic disruptions are behind us, some companies are keeping margins very high and his view is that some of those savings should be passed on.”

The tactic partly reflects White House frustration over negative economic polling despite what Biden aides see as a strong economy. Unemployment remains low, the economy is growing at a rapid clip, and inflation has been steadily easing for more than a year. Yet the administration’s attempts to convert these positive economic results into political advantages do not appear to be working, with polls showing that even Democratic and independent voters dislike Biden’s handling of the economy. A New York Times/Sienna poll released last month showed that even most Democrats who supported Biden in 2020 do not believe the economy is either “excellent” or “good.”

While the White House has tried promoting its successes, a chorus of liberal advocates has long pushed the administration to instead align itself with the discontent over high prices and try to direct that ire against large corporations. Spearheading this push has been the Groundwork Collaborative, a think tank led by Lindsay Owens, who previously served as a top aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Owens has championed this approach for more than two years, and her staff has compiled evidence from hundreds of corporate earnings reports to provide support for their case.

Biden has taken some steps in this direction – criticizing consolidation in the agricultural sector and the oil industry, for instance, and launching an initiative aimed at cracking down on “junk fees” across a range of industries. But many on the left have wanted him to go further.


“Americans are really upset about this: The polling on this is substantial, particularly among independents. Everything suggests this is the right strategy for the White House both substantively and politically,” Owens said.

Former President Donald Trump attempted to appeal to young people by criticizing Biden’s “disastrous economy” in a Newsweek op-ed Wednesday.

Economists disagree over the extent to which price gouging really is leading to broad-based price hikes.

Most economists have pointed to higher labor costs, elevated energy prices, and snarled supply chains to explain the surge in post-pandemic inflation. Corporate profits are often invested, generating long-term economic growth by improving productive capacity. Corporate profits also surged in the early 2010s – a time with no measurable surge in inflation.

“It’s a third-order issue at best,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “We have had a fundamental mismatch between supply and demand, and that’s why we’ve had four-decade-high inflation. It has nothing to do with price gouging.”

Jason Furman, who served as a top economist in the Obama administration, said he supports the administration’s outstanding efforts to break up corporate monopolies but sees pushing on “profiteering” to likely do little to lower consumer prices.

“More vigorous antitrust is a good thing, but it won’t do anything noticeable about inflation on any reasonable time frame,” Furman said.

Still, Konczal, of the Roosevelt Institute, pointed to data showing that corporate profits are at or near record highs for the last half-century – and defended the president’s attempts to call attention to that trend.

“It’s a really good time for us to think through why there are such high levels of corporate profits even as inflation is normalizing and supply chains are coming back online,” Konczal said. “It’s worthy of attention.”

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