By Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden promised on Wednesday that rising prices and goods shortages will ease somewhat even as the United States approaches the holiday season facing new threats from the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Strong demand for goods has stretched the capacity of an economy still grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic, sparking inflation and political risks for the Democratic president.
“I can’t promise that every person will get every gift they want on time; only Santa Claus can keep that promise,” Biden said. “But we’re heading into a holiday season in very strong shape,” he said, adding he believed store shelves would be stocked.
New data on Wednesday showed rising U.S. manufacturing activity and hiring but pointed to continued shortages of raw materials, labor, and finished products, contributing to higher prices for consumers. A widely watched measure of hiring is due on Friday.
The Democratic president, who spent the weeks after his January inauguration pushing stimulus to increase demand, has spent more recent months trying to clear port logjams and lower prices on goods from meat to gasoline.
Now, the Omicron COVID variant has sparked fears that demand could slow and also keep the unemployed at home.
Biden said he would unveil new steps on Thursday to manage that outbreak but that they would not include shutdowns or lockdowns of the sort that pushed the U.S. economy into a recession last year.
Biden also said that some tightness in supplies is common during the holiday season, including the 1980s shortage of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and of Beanie Babies in the 1990s.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Franklin Paul and Andrea Ricci)