Biden Targets Food Prices, Housing in Latest ‘Junk Fees’ Action

President Joe Biden announced new actions to target so-called junk fees, efforts he said would lower costs and help curb inflation that has damaged him politically ahead of the 2024 election.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden announced new actions to target so-called junk fees, efforts he said would lower costs and help curb inflation that has damaged him politically ahead of the 2024 election.

“Folks are tired of being played for suckers,” Biden said at a White House meeting of his Competition Council Wednesday, detailing a partnership to fight price-gouging on agricultural goods and an initiative compelling companies to disclose rental housing fees.

Biden said the US Department of Agriculture would cooperate with attorneys general in 31 states and the District of Columbia to ramp up enforcement of antitrust and consumer-protection laws in food and agriculture. Biden said the effort would help stop large companies from “artificially” raising prices.

“Just four supermarket companies control over a third of the market nationwide, and it’s even more concentrated at the local level,” he said. “Groceries in consolidated markets can charge you more because you have nowhere else to shop.”

Biden said Zillow,, and will update their websites to better display fees consumers applying for certain apartments face, a move the White House views as significant in the country’s tight rental market. Biden said renters are sometimes hit with surprise fees just to pay their rent. 

“It’s simply not right and we’re going to move on it,” he said. 

US antitrust agencies also are stepping up crackdown on mergers and acquisitions, with a proposed overhaul of the rules they use to determine if potential deals violate competition law.

Read more: Merger Rules Get Tougher in Crackdown by Antitrust Enforcers

Biden named Hannah Garden-Monheit as director of competition council policy, a new role on the National Economic Council responsible for fighting anti-competitive practices.

Wednesday’s event was the latest to tout economic gains under Biden’s watch as the White House highlights his “Bidenomics” agenda. One of its goals is increasing competition in markets through regulatory actions, proposed laws and publicly pressuring companies to change policies. 

The president’s team is betting that saving voters from junk fees and other monthly financial annoyances will help turn around dismal polling numbers on his handling of the economy, which have persisted even as recent data show unemployment remains low and core inflation is slowing.

In recent months, the Biden administration has sought to stop resorts from charging for things like pool towels, force airlines to pay for travelers’ hotel stays when flights are canceled, prevent concert ticket vendors from adding unexpected fees at checkout, stop banks from levying overdraft fees when an ATM shows money in an account and bar hospitals from charging surprise out-of-network bills.

The proposals generally poll well. A survey in late February by Global Strategy Group for Navigator Research, a Democrat-aligned polling group, found that three-fourths of registered voters supported a proposal to ban junk fees, including broad majorities of Republicans and independents.

Still, most voters aren’t impressed with Biden’s handling of the economy, with polls showing roughly two-thirds having little or almost no confidence on his economic stewardship since he took office. That figure has held steady even as unemployment fell to 3.6% and US inflation cooled to 3% last month. A Monmouth University Polling Institute survey released Wednesday showed voters still unwilling to give the president credit on the economy.

Read more: Biden Gets Little Credit on Economy Amid Bidenomics Push

Biden highlighted his fight against junk fees in the State of the Union in February, arguing that they can cost hundreds of dollars a month for middle-class families. 

In focus group polling conducted by Navigator Research, Biden’s junk fees proposal was one of the highest-performing moments of the speech among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Democratic strategist Mike Lux said the smaller fights help highlight for voters Biden’s broader economic agenda.

Read More: White House Economists Defend Industrial Policy in New Paper

“This stuff adds up, especially if we tell the story effectively: Joe Biden is taking on greedy corporations who are trying to rip people off,” he said.

Republican pollster Robert Blizzard said skepticism over Biden on the economy is going to make it hard for the message to break through.

“The problem for the White House here is that they may have some popular tactics here, but people just don’t trust the messenger,” he said.

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