As Russian missiles continued to bombard Ukraine, President Joe Biden used his first State of the Union address to express American support for the beleaguered nation and tackle a number of domestic issues, including food price inflation and supply chain disruptions.
Biden declared the nation’s resolve to support Ukraine — “When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos” — and insisted that curbing inflation is his “top priority.”
He continued his previous attacks on big meatpackers and pledged to crack down on ocean carriers that are blamed for port bottlenecks snarling U.S. ag exports.
He went off-script from the prepared text to single out the four largest meat processors for blame when it comes to inflation.
“You play with them or you don't get to play at all. And you pay a hell of a lot more. A hell of a lot more,” Biden said.
He didn’t announce any new steps against the industry. The Agriculture Department has largely been focused on funding new plants and expansions of existing processing facilities. The White House has spoken favorably of cattle market reforms proposed by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, but has not actually endorsed their bill.
Biden added ocean carriers to the list of consolidated industries that are culprits when it comes to inflation, noting a plan the White House released on Monday to promote more competition in freight transportation.
“During the pandemic, these foreign-owned companies raised prices by as much as 1,000% and made record profits,” Biden said.
Under the White House plan, the Federal Maritime Commission is to provide the Justice Department with maritime industry expertise for possible antitrust actions. The Justice Department, in turn, is to provide the commission support from attorneys and economists in its Antitrust Division for enforcement of shipping laws.
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Biden also used the speech to urge Congress to pass his legislative priorities, including elements of his Build Back Better bill that is stalled in the Senate and bills passed by the House and Senate that are supposed to improve U.S. competitiveness with China and other countries in technology and trade.
The Build Back Better bill includes more than $550 billion in climate-related provisions, including new biofuel tax credits and $80 billion in agriculture and forestry provisions.
Biden said that “combating climate change” would cut consumers’ energy bills. He also noted his administration’s efforts to shift Americans from gas-powered cars and trucks into electric vehicles.
“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to weatherize your homes and businesses to be energy efficient and you get a tax credit; double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind, and so much more; lower the price of electric vehicles, saving you another $80 a month because you’ll never have to pay at the gas pump again,” he said.
In a statement responding to the speech, Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, the House Agriculture Committee’s ranking Republican, said Biden had failed to address inflation and surging farm production costs.
"Between surging input costs, skyrocketing fertilizer prices, the highest inflation in 40 years, and endless regulatory uncertainty, the Biden administration’s failing policies remain out-of-touch with the challenges and everyday needs of farmers, ranchers, foresters, and consumers,” Thompson said.
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