Malarkey, in Trillions

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President Joe Biden and ‪Vice President Kamala Harris‬ meet on infrastructure with a bipartisan group of state governors and mayors at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Biden insists that his overstuffed, $3.5 trillion slop-pail of a spending package “costs zero dollars.” President Biden is, forgive us for noticing, completely crackers.

There are a few ways of looking at the cost of a $3.5 trillion boondoggle. The obvious way is to take the price tag at its own word — that, all-in, this package will cost at least $3.5 trillion if Democrats get their way. And that is, of course, correct. Even advocates of the infrastructure plan, such as Ian Bremmer, acknowledge as much.

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President Biden and his congressional allies insist that the cost is zero because the spending is “paid for.” But the cost of a $3.5 trillion outlay is $3.5 trillion, “paid for” or not. For example, we could cut $3.5 trillion out of Social Security benefits to offset the $3.5 trillion in “human infrastructure” spending, and none of those Social Security beneficiaries trying to make ends meet with reduced incomes would agree that the program cost nothing. Lecture them about “gross” vs. “net” price all you like, and the people who now have fewer benefits will still understand that it costs something, because they are the ones bearing the burden.

In the case of Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal, it would be individuals and businesses paying the price through higher taxes, meaning through reduced after-tax income. Don’t tell them it’s free while you’ve got your hand in their pockets.

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Biden says that the monster spending spree costs nothing because it would not — or so he says — add anything to the national debt. This claim is, of course, preposterous. No one believes it — Penn-Wharton puts the new debt at almost $2 trillion, the Washington Post fact-checkers gave Biden’s claim two Pinocchios and warned that they’ve got a pocketful of Pinocchios if more Pinocchios are warranted, and even the gormless, prostrate Democratic partisans over at the Rachel Maddow Show concede that critics are likely to be proved correct when they complain that Biden is relying on “budget games.”

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Do you know who else doesn’t believe the Democrats’ BS?

The Democrats.

That is why they are refusing to submit the program for a Congressional Budget Office score before voting on it. We have our occasional disagreements with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (that’s Mitch Daniels’s and Leon Panetta’s bipartisan effort), but they are right about this much: “Unless and until a CBO score of the legislation under consideration is released, the House should not vote on the Build Back Better Act.”

President Biden pitches this as a “once in a generation investment,” which is, of course, precisely the wrong way to go about managing infrastructure, a sector that is by its nature an ongoing, day-by-day, year-by-year concern. And that would matter if this package were really about infrastructure — but it isn’t. It’s a progressive wish-list, including everything from paying the tuition of every community-college student to paying Elizabeth Warren’s grandkids’ babysitter to corporate handouts for Democrat-aligned businesses.

The part of the spending spree that is plausibly about infrastructure, contained in a separate bill which already has been approved by the Senate, would add $256 billion to the debt, according to CBO data. President Biden’s plan at the moment seems to be to pretend that he’s never heard of that bill.

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If the package were a good one and organized along fiscally sensible lines, President Biden would not be obliged to lie about it.

“My Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars,” the president says. The word you are looking for here is “malarkey.”

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