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June 21, 2024

Sen. Casey becomes latest Democrat to press major retailers about possible price gouging

The Pennsylvania Democrat just sent letters asking questions of the CEOs of Target, Walmart and Amazon, following similar action from other Democratic lawmakers.

Government Inflation
Bob Casey inflation Josh Morgan/USA TODAY NETWORK

Sen. Bob Casey (D) is questioning the leaders of Target, Amazon and Walmart over what he calls 'greedflation.'

Sen. Bob Casey is asking the CEOs of Target, Amazon and Walmart to explain skyrocketing prices in the face of stabilizing inflation, making him the latest in a string of politicians to press the retailers on possible gouging of consumers.

The Pennsylvania Democrat, who is seeking reelection this year, sent letters to the heads of all three retailers on Thursday. In them, he commended the companies' recent price reductions while questioning whether "corporate profit seeking" played a role in their "pricing decisions in recent years." The letters ask each company to respond to six queries about price fluctuations and how long consumers can expect decreases to continue. 

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"Over the last couple of years, Americans' budgets have been squeezed by rising prices, especially on everyday items," Casey writes in all three letters. "However, even as inflation has fallen, prices for groceries and other household items have not. 

"Americans deserve to pay fair prices, and corporations must be held accountable for taking advantage of working families."

High consumer prices, particularly on groceries, have been a matter of concern since the onset of COVID-19. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices increased by 9.9% in 2022, which was faster than any year since 1979. Notably, grocery cost hikes outpaced restaurants at that time. While the trend eased in 2023, food prices still rose by 5.8%, even as supply chain issues eased and overall inflation cooled. ConsumerAffairs found that Pennsylvania weathered the worst grocery price increases across states.

The Federal Trade Commission also accused large retailers of "accelerat(ing) and distort(ing) the negative effects associated with supply chain disruptions" from COVID-19 in a March report. Pricing at Walmart was the subject of a recent $45 million class-action lawsuit settlement.

Dave McCormick, Casey's Republican opponent in the Senate election in November, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The persisting price surges have spurred action from several Democratic lawmakers. In April, Connecticut's attorney general William Tong sent similar letters of inquiry to "every major grocery retailer" in that state, asking about their profits and supplier fees since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Some of Casey's colleagues in Congress — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Martin Heinrich, Peter Welch and Richard Blumenthal, along with 35 House Democrats — sent a letter to President Biden asking him to investigate price manipulation across grocery store chains in May.

Biden claimed that companies had "heeded (his) call" to lower prices when Target, Amazon, Walmart and other major retailers announced sweeping pricing cuts weeks later. The White House further touted "substantial" reductions in grocery price inflations in an updated release this week. But it is unclear if consumers, for whom inflation is a top issue going into the 2024 election, are feeling the relief.

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