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Biden’s Economic Agenda Is Tiny Compared to Federal Spending


  • Democrats are negotiating the price tag for Biden’s economic agenda, with moderates seeking a lower price tag.
  • The roughly $4 trillion sticker price is spread out over 10 years.
  • The US will spend far more than that on defense, Social Security, and Medicare over the next decade.

Democrats in Congress are fiercely negotiating over two bills that would make up President Joe Biden’s domestic economic agenda: A bipartisan infrastructure bill that would add $550 billion in new spending, and a social spending bill to be passed in reconciliation worth as much as $3.5 trillion.

Those top-line spending figures are a big sticking point for centrist Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

But there’s an enormous catch: Both bills are designed to spread spending out over a decade. And looking at the federal government’s projected other outlays over the next 10 years gives a little perspective — the current proposals are just a fraction of what the government spends on the military and support for older Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office regularly publishes estimates for what the US government will likely spend on programs such as defense, Social Security, and Medicare over the coming years. Totaled up between the 2022 and 2031 fiscal years, those estimates dwarf the current spending proposals:

Putting the sticker shock into perspective

Moderates including Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have cited the sticker shock of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package as a reason for opposition and further negotiation.

Manchin — who backed up to $4 trillion in infrastructure spending just months ago — now says $1.5 trillion is his cutoff. Sinema has also said that she doesn’t support a $3.5 trillion bill. Biden took aim at those two moderates on Monday, saying, “I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48.”

But as the above chart shows, that sticker price doesn’t tell the whole story. Looking at other major federal programs under the same terms shows much larger 10-year outlays than the social spending package causing so much contention. CBO estimates that the defense budget over the next decade will top $7 trillion, while Social Security and Medicare will each easily clear $15 trillion — more than three times the combined proposed spending in the two bills under consideration.

Those programs tend to be mostly uncontroversial. Both Manchin and Sinema voted for the most recent defense appropriations bill last December, which sailed through the Senate 84-13. At the time, the moderates expressed little concern that the country couldn’t afford trillions of dollars of additional military spending.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted that looking at the actual annual outlays implied by the proposals removes a lot of this sticker shock:

Even the $3.5 trillion is lower than progressives initially wanted. Sen. Bernie Sanders had drafted a $6 trillion proposal before Democrats moved forward on the current framework, which would still come in below defense spending.

Ocasio-Cortez has said that a $10 trillion package would be more in line with what’s need to tackle America’s challenges. She said that amount would improve healthcare and housing supply, and bring down carbon emissions.

For now, though, it looks like Democrats will move forward with a fraction of that.





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