Michigan lawmakers seek new protections for guardian safety net

Slotkin presses Biden to take more aggressive action to combat inflation

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is asking President Joe Biden to take more "aggressive" action in the short term to alleviate the inflation crisis heading into the holiday season, citing the crunch her constituents are feeling, especially on the price of gas at the pump.

The Holly Democrat, who is facing another competitive election next year, wrote Tuesday to the Democratic president, joining calls urging him to consider a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Slotkin also wants Biden to increase diplomatic pressure on nations in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, like Saudi Arabia, that are constraining global oil production.

"I think it's important to lay out for the American people what the strategy is, and I'm not saying that President Biden can control all the factors that are raising the prices on standard goods," she said in a Thursday interview. "The single, uniting factor on all of these things is that we're coming out of a pandemic." 

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, speaking here at a Veterans Day ceremony at Great Lakes National Cemetery, wants the White House to step up efforts to combat inflation.

Republicans in Congress have been pounding Biden in recent weeks over rising inflation, claiming it's caused by Democrats' stimulus spending. But Slotkin in her letter pointed to the lingering impacts of the pandemic and surging demand for consumer goods contributing to supply chain bottlenecks, labor shortages and higher energy costs. 

U.S. inflation hit a 30-year high in October at 6.2%, and gas prices are up more than 50% from a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index.

"These things are having a real impact on working families in my district," Slotkin wrote to Biden. 

"It's not uncommon for Michiganders to drive 40 minutes each way to work, so the sharp increase in the price of gas at the pump is directly affecting their pocketbooks. Compounded with the rising prices of groceries and goods, people are really feeling the squeeze." 

Biden's administration is mulling whether to tap the Strategic Petroleum Preserve, which is intended for emergencies. The president on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate alleged price gouging and manipulation among oil and gas companies.

Biden noted in his letter to the FTC that gas prices were up 3% from a month ago, even though the price of unfinished gasoline was down more than 5% in the same period. 

The White House also said Thursday it's hosting a meeting of governors, other state officials, and federal officials with the aim of tackling home heating costs for the winter.

The focus of the meeting will be on deploying previously approved federal stimulus aid, including more than doubling funding for a home energy program for low-income households and emergency rental assistance that can be used for utility bills.

Slotkin said she decided to speak up after hearing "deep concerns" from constituents around her district last week while in Michigan. While looking into steps that Biden could take, she said she found a "nexus" of sorts between her job in Congress and her "former life" as a Middle East specialist.

"The role of Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC countries just seem to be, yet again, a problem that was affecting the American consumer," she said.

"I thought that put me in a good position to try and urge the president to give it the sense of urgency that it deserved, but then also try to be concrete about specific steps that his administration can take to deal with this before the holidays."

Biden in August requested that OPEC boost production to help lower prices, but the cartel has so far declined. Slotkin wants him to work with the United Arab Emirates and other U.S. allies who might be willing to "counterbalance" Saudi efforts to artificially curb production. 

"It's important that when the American consumer is feeling the pain of inflation that our friends respond," Slotkin said. "And I wanted to urge both the Biden administration but also the Emiratis to recognize the role of the other actors in OPEC, not just Saudi."

The U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is strained for a number of reasons, including a report released in February that concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman greenlighted the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist and U.S. national Jamal Khashoggi. 

Slotkin said the U.S. tapping its own strategic reserve alone isn't expected to radically change pricing but doing so in coordination with allies as they open their strategic petroleum reserves could have an impact by increasing the supply in the world market.

"At the same time, it would a send a really clear signal to OPEC that we're not going to sit back and just accept collusion," she said.