BY JOSH BOAK
WASHINGTON (AP) – What will it cost to push through President Joe Biden’s massive expansion of social programs?
Congress has approved spending up to $ 3.5 trillion over a decade, but Biden is urging Democrats to fully recover the cost of the legislation – by raising taxes for the corporate and rich, negotiating the price of prescription drugs and other federal sources of income such as increased IRS funding.
The idea is that the entire package should pay for itself.
The Democrats are defending an as-yet-fully-drafted bill and are determined to avoid a deficit-financed shopping spree. They are increasingly frustrated with the focus on the planned $ 3.5 trillion total spending, arguing that far too little attention is being paid to the work they are doing to balance the books. Biden said Friday he would prefer the price described as “zero”.
“We pay for everything we spend,” Biden said in the White House. “It will be zero. Zero.”
But the revenue side of the equation is annoying and has proven to be one of the key challenges facing democratic negotiators as they work to build one of the greatest legislative efforts in a generation. Its success or failure could help determine whether the bulk of Biden’s agenda will become law and withstand the political assault to come.
Republicans, lockstep with the opposition, don’t wait for the details. They have trained their focus on the spending cap set by the Democrats of 3.5 trillion US dollars and, in the worst case, pilloried this sum as a fiscally ruthless, misguided government.
“The radical left is sticking all their chips in – they want to use this terrible but temporary pandemic as a Trojan horse for lasting socialism,” Senate Republican chairman Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Thursday. “Trillions upon trillion more government spending when families are already facing inflation.”
Part of the problem for democratic leaders is the lack of consensus on which programs to fund and for how long. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., acknowledge that the price will likely go down and say they have a “menu” of revenue increases, to pay for it. But without knowing which initiatives will be included, no final decisions can be made.
“This is not about the price,” said Pelosi on Thursday. “This is about what’s on the bill.”
Biden and officials insist that the plan is as much about fairness as it is about dollars and cents. By taxing the rich and corporations, they hope to fund paid family vacations and child tax credits that will help those reach the middle class, while at the same time pursuing environmental and economic policies that will help the US compete with China. But the haggling over an ultimate spending target overshadows the policy goals they are trying to achieve.
Pramila Jayapal, Washington Rep., A senior negotiator for the House progressives, said Friday that reporters shouldn’t portray the move as costing trillions of dollars if the accompanying proposed tax hikes covered the costs.
“I just believe this is going to be a zero dollar bill – that’s priority # 1,” she said.
Sharron Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based liberal think tank, warned Democrats that the $ 3.5 trillion emphasis could detract from what they are trying to achieve.
“The debate has focused too much on one number: the $ 3.5 trillion in gross new investment over the next decade – including spending increases and tax cuts – that could be included in the package,” Parrott wrote in an August- Blog post. “Real fiscal responsibility requires a focus on the net cost of the package and, more fundamentally, a focus on the merits of the investment and the offsetting proposals themselves.”
What really drives Biden forward are two goals that can easily conflict. He wants to bring the middle class back to the epicenter of economic growth, but without worsening national debt or raising taxes for people who earn less than $ 400,000 a year.
To make matters worse, many of his spending policies are actually tax cuts for the poor and middle class, which means he is raising taxes for one group in order to lower them for another.
Democrats also have to grapple with how the measures will be assessed by the Congressional Budget Office, the final arbiter of how the legislation will affect the federal balance sheet.
The Democrats’ extended child loans and nursing care loans, approved earlier this year, are counted as a cost in a CBO score. Biden plans to extend these programs as part of the budget, which he believes will be one of the largest middle class tax cuts in US history.
“It lowers taxes, not taxes,” Biden said on Friday.
It is not entirely clear whether Biden’s claim of “zero” costs is feasible under the 10-year outlook the CBO uses to assess the economic impact of the legislation. Biden’s own budget officials estimated earlier this year that his agenda would add nearly $ 1.4 trillion to the national debt over the decade.
Biden described the multi-stage talks with the legislature on Friday as a “state”. More meetings are expected in the coming days.
In the evenly split Senate, key Democratic senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have overall spending concerns. Democratic moderates fight for advantages over their liberal counterparts. With time running out, Biden asked for more patience to get the numbers right so the votes could follow.
“It’s a process,” he said. “But it will only take time.”