(The Hill) — A simmering feud between President Joe Biden and Jeff Bezos has spilled into the open after the Amazon founder went on the offensive to criticize the White House’s approach to inflation and taxing wealthy corporations.
Biden has frequently used Amazon as a foil as he pushes for higher taxes on the richest Americans and big companies to help fund his economic agenda, and he recently vocally backed unionization efforts at the company.
But Bezos’s tweets accusing the president of “misdirection” and of risking worse inflation with his economic proposals, and the White House’s sharp response, marked an escalation in what has become an increasingly adversarial relationship.
“It doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face, fights inflation for the long haul, and adds to the historic deficit reduction the President is achieving by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.
“It’s also unsurprising that this tweet comes after the President met with labor organizers, including Amazon employees,” Bates added.
Bezos shot back on Monday afternoon, accusing the White House of trying to change the topic and again hitting its economic policy.
“Remember the Administration tried their best to add another $3.5 TRILLION to federal spending,” Bezos tweeted. “They failed, but if they had succeeded, inflation would be even higher than it is today, and inflation today is at a 40 year high.”
Monday’s back-and-forth followed multiple tweets over the weekend, in which Bezos took issue with the White House’s argument that raising taxes on major corporations would help lower inflation. He argued the two were unrelated, and he suggested a government disinformation board should investigate a Biden tweet making that case.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked about Biden’s tweet, spoke broadly about the benefits of a fairer tax code for working Americans and for tackling climate change.
The White House found support from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who had been critical of the administration’s early economic rescue package and had cautioned against the risk of inflation for much of last year.
“I think @JeffBezos is mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin,” Summers tweeted Monday. “It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible.”
While tackling inflation has vexed the White House, a public spat with Amazon is one the administration would seem to welcome. Biden has used the tech and retail giant as a consistent foil. He has repeatedly singled out Amazon for not paying federal taxes as part of a broader stump speech pushing for the wealthiest corporations and individuals to pay their fair share.
And Biden, long an advocate for organized labor, has in recent weeks been a public supporter of efforts to unionize among Amazon workers.
“Amazon, here we come,” Biden said to applause at a North America’s Building Trades Unions legislative conference last month after workers at one of its Staten Island, N.Y., sites voted to be represented by a union.
Earlier this month, Biden hosted Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls at the White House.
Robyn Shapiro, a spokesperson for the American Economic Liberties Project, said Bezos’s Twitter feud with Biden is an effort by the Amazon chief to show his own political power.
“Whether it’s on Twitter or in other venues, what we’re watching is Bezos flex political power that accompanies the extreme economic power that he maintains,” she said.
“And I don’t find it shocking at all to see someone who maintains such extreme corporate power push back at a time when there is an enormous debate about the role that extreme corporate [power] plays in inflation,” she added.
Bezos’s criticism comes as the tech industry pushes against antitrust reform proposals.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association, of which Amazon is a member, is tying record inflation to its campaign against the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. The group released an ad Monday, backed by a seven-figure campaign, warning the bill could raise already soaring prices on consumers.
The Biden administration has thrown its weight behind the legislation, which would bar tech giants, including Amazon, from preferencing their own products and services on their platforms.
Versions have advanced out of the Senate and House judiciary committees with bipartisan support but face a tough road ahead and a dwindling time frame to pass Congress with midterm elections approaching.
Amazon, and Bezos himself, have become targets in progressive pushes to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and most profitable companies.
In the last four years, Amazon reported a total federal tax rate of 5.1 percent on more than $78 billion of U.S. income, according to a report released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Amazon reported record profits of more than $35 billion last year, 75 percent higher than its 2020 profits, and paid just 6 percent of those profits in federal corporate income taxes, according to the report.
Bezos himself reportedly paid zero in federal income taxes in 2007 and 2011, according to a bombshell report ProPublica published last year citing IRS data.
Between 2014 and 2018, Bezos reported $4.22 billion income and paid $973 million in taxes. In that period, the Amazon founder and then-CEO’s wealth grew by $99 billion, according to the report.
“I think he doesn’t want the public talking about the fact that wealthy people should pay taxes on their earnings, just like middle-class people do, or that profitable corporations should pay taxes on their profits,” said Amy Hanauer of the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.
“I think it’s very appropriate for the White House to be talking about having a tax code that collects the resources that we need to get the kind of programs that we think are going to help the economy,” she added.