By this standard, the takeout dinner I ordered on Saturday had zero cost, too … because I paid for it. And this argument might not even have that much going for it, considering how much of our federal spending comes from borrowed money. But that’s not the only dumb argument in this CNN discussion yesterday:
What idiocy. This woman is a columnist for the Washington Post. https://t.co/hoNn9pHnLo
— Brit Hume (@brithume) September 27, 2021
At one point, both Brian Stelter and Catherine Rampell try to shift the blame for the obscenely large bill to Republicans. Stelter claims that the effort to push through ridiculously large packages as an outcome of the supposedly “broken” nature of the Senate. For one thing, it’s been the urge to spend massively and make radical changes like ObamaCare and the Green New Deal that has contributed to gridlock. But Rampell goes further at one point, claiming that the bill is necessary because — I’m not kidding — it’s “partly that we no longer have majority rule in the Senate”:
STELTER: And it will be over in ten years, et cetera, et cetera. Isn’t the broader point because the Senate is broken and they don’t create laws — work on legislation all year long, they’re trying to do everything at once in one big bill.
RAMPELL: Well, it’s partly what you just mentioned, partly we no longer have majority rule in the Senate. In order to get anything through, through a party line vote, which is what theoretically should happen when we have unified control of government by the Democrats, they have to cram everything into this one major piece of legislation, so-called reconciliation bill, whatever shorthand we use for it. So, it has to cover all of the bases, or at least everything that can ostensibly get pushed into a budget bill.
Er, when did we have “majority rule” in the Senate? Presumably this refers to the filibuster and the mechanism of cloture votes to advance to floor votes, but that’s been a practice in the Senate for well over a century. In the case of this bill in particular and its spending level, Democrats and Joe Biden don’t have a majority because it’s too much even for some of the Democrats. If they did, they would push it through on reconciliation, which is a majority-rule process for budgetary matters. It’s simply breathtaking that a reporter on such matters doesn’t comprehend any of this … and to hear it go unchallenged on a show called “Reliable Sources.”
Rampell then blames Republicans for the omnibus approach:
RAMPELL: They have to do climate. They have to do paid leave. They have to do childcare. They have to do green energy tax credits for cars and things like that. They have to put everything into this one piece of legislation because they can’t do piecemeal, regularly ordered bills because it doesn’t work that way anymore. There’s only one this narrow to get the legislation through.
STELTER: We hear it all at once and then it’s confusing and people tune out and give up and don’t pay attention at all.
None of what Rampell argues is remotely correct. If Democrats want to get an agenda through an evenly split Senate, then they need to craft it in a manner which will get at least some Republican support. Chuck Schumer controls all the committees, so he can very obviously package each policy separately. In some cases, it might have been more advisable to do so. Democrats have chosen to cram it all into one comprehensive bill in order to avoid the filibuster. Clearly, it’s not just “people” who aren’t paying any attention at all.
Anyway. The Biden administration wants to run with this “zero cost” argument, starting with The Big Guy himself:
My Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars.
Instead of wasting money on tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion for big corporations and the wealthy, we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in working America.
And it adds zero dollars to the national debt.
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 26, 2021
The $0 claim refers to the necessary deficit score to qualify for reconciliation — not costs. The deficit score depends on revenue to balance the costs, not the elimination of costs altogether. The cost of the reconciliation bill is $3.5 trillion, a number promoted by progressives as a necessary level of spending almost without regard to what is actually inside the bill itself. Even if we find revenue to cover the costs, they still remain costs — much more so than the tax cuts that Democrats deride and want to reverse to fund their pet projects, as David Harsanyi observes:
But every penny of the bill is money taken from someone, either today or tomorrow — usually from a more useful part of the economy. (Or, likely, it will be lots more debt spending. That isn’t “zero,” either, even if our political parties act like it.)
Of course, the bill also creates new baseline spending in perpetuity. There is not a single welfare-state expansion in the past century that did not undergo mission creep and near-constant growth, and none came in anywhere close to its estimate costs. Medicare was famously projected to spend $9 billion on Part A by 1990 but ended up with a $67 billion price tag.
One of the most popular criticisms of GOP tax cuts is that they “costs” us. The notion that allowing Americans to keep more of their own earnings is tantamount to government “giving” them something is specious. Tax rates were not handed to us on stone tablets, they were cooked up by legislators. The state has no claim to all your income, so it doesn’t let you “keep” anything. It can only take.
The idea that this massive spending bill has “zero costs” qualifies as gaslighting. That’s all the more true given that our spending at the federal level even before the pandemic relied on borrowing for 40% or more of it each year. That actually does have costs even apart from the spending itself — interest costs, which are rising so high that they will soon eclipse our national-security spending, if they haven’t already. There is no reason to think that this spending will get “paid for” when the federal government hasn’t paid for its annual spending through annual revenue in decades.
Will this gaslighting work? Reliable Sources, aside, Jedi mind tricks don’t work except among the weak minded.
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