U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration is doing all it can to tackle inflation, placing blame for rising prices on oil and shipping companies, as new data show consumer prices have reached a four-decade high.
During a speech at the Port of Los Angeles on Friday, Biden said that oil companies are deliberately not increasing production to keep prices high.
He said oil companies “had 9,000 permits to drill. They are not drilling. Why aren’t they drilling?”
“Because they make money not producing more oil,” the president said.
Asked about Exxon’s profits, Biden said, “Exxon made more money than God this year.”
The president also criticized oil companies for spending billions to buy back the stock of their own companies and said the practice should be taxed.
Exxon objected to several of the president’s accusations.
Brian Deese, Biden’s chief economic adviser, met with the chief executives of Exxon and Chevron this week at the companies’ request, two people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Those discussions included prices, production and market conditions.
Exxon also said it plans a 50% increase in capital expenditures in the petroleum-rich Permian Basin in 2022 compared with 2021 and is boosting refining capacity for U.S. light crude oil to process about 250,000 barrels more per day, CNBC reported.
Labor Department data Friday showed that consumer prices rose 8.6% in May from the previous year. The cost of gas was up nearly 50% in one year, and groceries rose nearly 12% in that timeframe, the biggest such increase since 1979.
Biden said Friday that the major Asian shipping companies have increased their prices by as much as 1,000%. He called on Congress to consider taking action against them.
The president also repeated his view that inflation is being caused in part by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“We’ve never seen anything like Putin’s tax on both food and gas,” he said.
Biden touted his administration’s efforts to move cargo in and out of the Port of Los Angeles, which faced severe bottlenecks last year. However, while the number of ships waiting to enter the port for long periods of time has fallen by about 40%, according to the White House, inflation has not dropped.
The president is facing criticism from Republican lawmakers over his inability to stop prices from rising and is seeing decreasing support from voters. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, according to a May poll from The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Research.
The president argued Monday that the entire world is facing rising inflation and said, “America can tackle inflation from a position of strength.” He noted the country has a strong job market and an unemployment rate near historic lows.
During his speech Friday, Biden also addressed the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol after Thursday night’s first televised congressional hearing on the attack.
While Biden said he did not watch the hearing, he said the attack was “one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history,” and said it is important the American public understands what truly happened. The hearings are scheduled to continue next week.
VOA’s Megan Duzor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.