Biden to launch task force to crack down on ‘unfair and illegal pricing’ amid rising inflation

President Joe Biden on Tuesday will launch a new task force to take on “unfair and illegal” corporate pricing, which Biden sees as a major reason why consumers are not yet feeling the impact of cooling inflation rates and a strong economy.

The task force will be jointly led by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, two agencies at the forefront of the Biden administration’s aggressive regulatory agenda over the past three years.

“We’re excited to be co-chairing the president’s new Strike Force on Unfair and Illegal Pricing, which builds on the FTC’s far-reaching work to promote competition and tackle unlawful business practices that are inflating costs for Americans,” FTC Chair Lina Khan told reporters on a call Monday.

Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Jonathan Kanter will co-chair the strike force along with Khan.

“Here at the Justice Department, we are confronting some of the world’s most powerful corporations so that we can improve the lives of American families, Kanter said on the call.

Jonathan Kanter, the assistant attorney general for antitrust, in Washington on March 27, 2023.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

On Tuesday afternoon, Biden will convene the sixth formal meeting of the White House Competition Council, a group of top official throughout the administration who are tasked with rooting out anti-competitive practices across a wide range of industries.

“Over the last year supply chains have returned to normal and inflation has come down,” said National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard on the call. “Some corporations aren’t passing those savings on to consumers…President Biden is fed up with corporate practices that unfairly raise costs for consumers and he’s taking action.”

In advance of the council meeting, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will release a final rule to cut credit card late fees. The Agriculture Department will also release finalized protections for farmers against potentially discriminatory processing practices.

The announcements and the meeting are part of Biden’s ongoing crusade against corporate pricing practices that he claims are unfair. The White House believes they contribute directly to the public perception that the economy is doing poorly, despite data that objectively shows a strong U.S. economy.

“The competition council and its members have worked to bring down costs and everything from hearing aids to asthma inhalers to Epi pens to air travel, ” said Brainard.

White House National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard on Oct. 26.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file

Still, questions remain about precisely what actions regulators have the legal authority to take to address companies that exercise their pricing power more aggressively than others.

“There are dozens of statutes on the book across all of these agencies that can, in certain situations, be brought to bear where high prices are harming consumers,” a senior administration official said on the Monday call. “And it depends on how and when.”

Biden has pointed to what he says is “price gouging” and “shrinkflation” as two examples of corporate pricing strategies that keep profits high, even when wholesale and transportation costs drop.

But two months into the election year, the narrative of a strong economy may finally be taking hold with voters who have so far not given Biden credit for the economy’s soft landing. Instead, they have blamed him for the post-pandemic elevated cost of living.

Four new polls released over the weekend pointed to signs of growing economic optimism among respondents.

Nonetheless, the polls still showed Biden trailing his likely November opponent, twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, in a head-to-head hypothetical general election contest.

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