An Emboldened F.T.C. Bolsters Biden’s Efforts to Address Inflation

An independent federal agency has become one of the most reliable executors of President Biden’s attempts to fight inflation, at a time when the White House has few weapons of its own to quickly bring down stubbornly high prices of consumer staples like groceries.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit on Monday, joined by several state attorneys general, to challenge a merger between the supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons. The agency’s rationale in many ways echoed Mr. Biden’s renewed attempts to blame corporate greed for rising prices and shrinking portions in grocery aisles.

“If allowed, this merger would substantially lessen competition, likely resulting in Americans paying millions of dollars more for food and other essential household goods,” agency officials wrote in a legal complaint. Because grocery prices have risen significantly in recent years, they added, “the stakes for Americans are exceptionally high.”

That is true for consumers, and it is true for the president. More Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy than approve of it. Consumer confidence, while improved in recent months, remains relatively weak for an economy with low unemployment and solid growth like the one Mr. Biden is presiding over.

An internal analysis by White House economists suggests that no single factor is weighing more on consumer sentiment than grocery prices. Those costs soared in 2022 and have not fallen, though their rate of increase has slowed.

White House officials concede that there is little more Mr. Biden can do unilaterally to reduce grocery prices and even less chance of legislative help from Congress. That is why Mr. Biden has resorted to the bully pulpit, calling on stores to reduce prices and chastising snack makers for engaging in “shrinkflation” — reducing portions while raising or maintaining prices.

Back to top button