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Voodoo math: Media mostly fails to challenge Biden’s ‘zero-dollar cost’ infrastructure


“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.”

That’s President Biden insulting the intelligence of sober, sane Americans by claiming that $3.5 trillion in new spending – via an infrastructure bill in which most of the money allocated does not go toward improving roads, rail lines, bridges, power grids or other actual infrastructure – “costs zero dollars.” 

Fortunately, numbers are numbers and math is math, and therefore they can’t be spun so easily.  

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, the $3.5 trillion bill would call for the U.S. government to borrow $1 trillion. It also projects that approximately $3 trillion would be added to the national debt over the next decade. 

The CRFB further found that, thanks to various accounting and budgeting gimmicks, the $3.5 trillion bill’s cost is more in the $5.5 trillion range

“It would be unwise and irresponsible to use arbitrary expirations and sunsets to obscure the true cost of this legislation,” the committee concludes. 

Yet here was White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday repeating the president’s laughable claim. “The reconciliation package will cost zero dollars,” she insisted to reporters. Look, she is the president’s spokesperson and has to carry his message, that’s understood. But how can she say this without even one reporter or correspondent in the room even attempting to challenge her claim? 

Even the Washington Post fact-checkers took issue with the zero-dollars scam, which it dubbed a “mythical zero.”

“Lawmakers are certain to play all sorts of budget games to achieve that mythical zero within the 10-year budget framework,” reads the fact-check. “One possible trick: terminating a new spending program early, before the 10 years is completed. That would ‘save’ money — and require a future Congress to decide whether to continue a possibly popular benefit.”  

But once a program – free stuff – is given to the public from the government, it’s almost impossible to pull it back. Does anyone honestly believe that any of the myriad of social programs that Biden is offering in this bill will be allowed to simply expire when they’re set to if Democrats are still in power? They would be deemed essential, and those advocating cutting them in the name of budgetary sanity would be dubbed as heartless. 

“We’ll keep an eye on the final outcome, but for Americans not steeped in budget arcana, the president’s claim is misleading,” the Post fact-check concluded. “For now, Biden earns Two Pinocchios — a number that could grow higher.” 

And undoubtedly it will. 

The president and the administration as a whole is in the midst of a credibility crisis on several fronts on which Team Biden is polling horribly and is not being helped by its own public statements. 

On rising violent crime, the press secretary claimed Republicans are the ones who want to defund the police, which the Post fact-checker called “slipshod” while awarding her Three Pinocchios. 


On the border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas continues to declare that the border is closed, all while more than 1.5 million migrants (an all-time high) have illegally entered the country under this administration since the beginning of the year. That’s more than the population of Philadelphia. 


On Afghanistan, we are told the debacle of a withdrawal was an inevitable outcome — but Americans disagree in every poll. 


On the economy, we were told by the White House and the Federal Reserve that inflation was only transitory, a temporary state that would resolve itself in short order. The Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, now says that’s no longer the case. 

Add it all up, and perhaps even some moderate Democrats will have second thoughts about passing this bill, given the short- and long-term inflationary impact. Given the administration’s incompetence on domestic and foreign crises. Given that not one lucid person actually believes the president and his allies that this will cost zero dollars.

If that’s the go-to argument, there’s a better chance than not that this bill ultimately will fail. And for good reason. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas bipartisan infrastructure framework Build Back Better plan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Jen Psaki Joe Biden The Washington Post

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