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What does the White House plan to do to combat inflation?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden got some tough news over the weekend about what many Americans think about his presidency one year in. A new NBC poll finds that nearly three-quarters of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. And 6 in 10 say that with rising prices, their family income is falling behind the cost of living. So what's the administration doing to change that? Brian Deese is director of the White House National Economic Council. And he joins us now. Good morning.

BRIAN DEESE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Have you been to the grocery store recently?

DEESE: I have, indeed.

MARTIN: And I'm sure you have noticed - prices are way up from what they were a year ago. I mean, you can attribute a lot of this to supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, for sure. But what levers can the administration pull to get inflation down?

DEESE: Yeah. Look; there's no question that the high prices are having an impact on Americans when they go to the grocery store, when they go to the gas station. And also, it's affecting their outlook on the economy. It's also undeniable that last year, we had one of the strongest economic periods in recent memory, the strongest economic growth in 40 years and a very strong labor market, the most jobs created ever on record as a country. So the real question is, how can we keep that strong growth going that is generating new job opportunities, particularly for people at the bottom end of the wage spectrum while getting prices in check? And you mentioned that supply chains are top on our list. We have seen historic disruption over the course of this crisis. And by making our supply chains more resilient, bringing more of that production back here to the United States, we can address those prices, for example. A third of the price increases people are facing are cars. And the reason why we - our prices are up is we don't have enough semiconductors to build in the cars that Americans need. So that's - those are the issues that we're tackling head on.

MARTIN: So those are longer term solutions, though, right? I mean, increasing manufacturing here domestically, that's a long-term game. What can you do in the short term so people can see a difference in their family incomes in less than - you know, it takes a long time to build a new car plant.

DEESE: Absolutely. And if you think about the supply chains, they operate in the immediate and the medium term. So to give you a concrete example - last fall, we heard a lot about the supply chain challenges keeping people from being able to get the goods that they wanted for Christmas and for the holidays. So we've worked with the ports across the country, particularly LA and Long Beach, where 40% of the goods come into this country. We brought business and labor together. We got them to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And we largely have related those concerns about presents and goods not being on shelves during the holidays. Those are immediate actions we can take to reduce the cost of moving things through the supply chain. But over the medium term, I would say, Rachel, we, for 20 years, have under-invested in building our own supply chain, our own semiconductor capability here in the United States. The sooner we do that - the president was with the CEO of Intel on Friday and asked for a $20 billion investment in Ohio to build some - creating good jobs, but also building our own capability to make those innovative chips. The sooner we do those types of things, the better, even if it's going to take a little bit of time to build those.

MARTIN: Right. But it's - as you know, politics is about the moment. And Americans are going to want to see a change. And in the short term, how much influence can the Federal Reserve make here? I mean, should the Fed be moving faster to raise interest rates?

DEESE: Well, we were expecting an interest reset. And we recognize that the decision that they are making is appropriate. But I would say, for anyone who's focused on prices, the most immediate thing we can do to actually lower the cost that American people are facing is to lower the kitchen table costs that affect a family's monthly budget, the cost of health care, the cost of child care, the cost of prescription drugs. And we have legislation in front of the Congress right now that would, in a commonsense way, reduce those costs for a typical American family, cap the price of insulin, cut the cost of child care so that no middle-class family has to pay more than 7% of their income in child care. If we do those things, and we do them in a way that is paid for - and so it doesn't add to any inflationary pressures in the economy - we would actually get more people into the workforce, ease price pressures and importantly, reduce the kitchen table costs of families with this.

MARTIN: We'd love to have you on again to talk more in depth about this. Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council at the White House. We appreciate your time this morning.

DEESE: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE VENTURES' "WALK DON'T RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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