White House seeks to flip debate on agenda price tag

White House officials are trying to cut through the focus on the price tag of President BidenJoe BidenGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE’s economic agenda as they look to persuade moderate senators to get on board.

The administration argues that the Democratic-only reconciliation bill essentially won’t cost anything since the legislation, which could be as high as $3.5 trillion but is in flux, will be offset by tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans.

Democrats believe the argument will have a dual effect of assuaging concerns from moderates about the size and cost of the package while also beating back the Republican narrative that Biden is overseeing a “tax and spend” agenda. But efforts to win over centrist lawmakers on the cost component have thus far been unsuccessful, despite Biden’s direct intervention.

ADVERTISEMENT

Still, prominent outside groups aligned with moderates say there’s merit to the White House’s argument.

“Presumably, when the bill is done, the offsets will equal the new spending and it will have a net cost of zero. And for those who are concerned about deficits and debt and the size of government, which is a lot of Democrats, this would answer that,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.

“I think it’s both accurate and that there’s a public relations aspect to it that has the benefit of being true,” Kessler said.

On Thursday afternoon, hours before House Democrats delayed a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, Biden and other administration officials tweeted that former President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE’s 2017 tax cuts increased the national debt by $1.9 trillion while Biden’s "Build Back Better" agenda wouldn’t increase the debt by one cent.

“Here's the deal: unlike my predecessor's tax plan, every penny of my Build Back Better Agenda is paid for,” Biden tweeted.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE said this past week that the bill favored by progressives would not add to the national debt, but she acknowledged that it would cost corporations and wealthy Americans because of the tax increases Biden has proposed to pay for the package.

“A lot of high-income individuals pay lower tax rates than nurses and teachers. Nobody thinks that’s fair,” Psaki said at a White House briefing. “Yes, we’re asking them to pay more.”

The national debt had risen to roughly $28.5 trillion right before the federal debt limit was reimposed Aug. 1. Though the debt ballooned over several decades, Republicans have vowed to block any increase or suspension of the debt ceiling while Democrats pursue their multitrillion-dollar spending bill.

GOP lawmakers peppered Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters US deficit hits .8 trillion, second largest in history Financial oversight panel unveils climate risk plan MORE with concerns about the fiscal impact of Biden’s agenda during two appearances before congressional committees this past week.

“In the face of spiking inflation, slowing growth, lingering high unemployment and historic levels of government spending and government debt, how do we justify supporting President Biden’s 3.5 trillion tax and spend package?” Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottTim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter Nikki Haley gets lifetime post on Clemson Board of Trustees First senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid MORE (R-S.C.) asked Yellen during her Tuesday testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.

Republicans argued that with the national debt held by the public now at 105 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Biden had set the country down a path to financial ruin.

Yellen has insisted in recent days that Biden’s sprawling spending plan would not only be deficit-neutral, but also narrow future deficits by boosting the long-term productivity of the United States.

“The proposals from the Biden administration are neutral with respect to the debt path. The projections that we've shown display essentially a level debt path over the next 10 years, and beyond 15 years, substantially reduce the outstanding debt to GDP ratio,” Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.

Republicans have nonetheless questioned how certain the administration can be about the bill’s fiscal impact without a formal score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the legislature’s nonpartisan budget analyst.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) and top Senate Budget Committee Republican Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (S.C.) asked the CBO on Friday to calculate the debt impact of Biden’s agenda based on an outline of spending levels included in Democratic budget resolution.

Budget watchdogs are also urging Democrats to hold off on a vote until the CBO is able to score the final package.

“Right now, we don’t know whether the reconciliation package currently being considered would cost $3.5 trillion, $4 trillion, or $5 trillion, and we don’t know whether it is deficit-neutral or a huge budget buster,” said Maya MacGuineas, president and CEO of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a pro-fiscal discipline think thank in a Sept. 27 statement.

“You wouldn’t buy a new house without knowing its price; why would you vote for transformative legislation without knowing the cost?” MacGuineas said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The White House’s argument has thus far failed to move moderate Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal Sunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE (D-Ariz.) to support a package as high as $3.5 trillion. Manchin revealed Thursday that he was willing to support a $1.5 trillion reconciliation bill, still a far cry of what Biden and other Democrats have sought.

Manchin has also signaled he won’t support increasing the corporate tax rate beyond 25 percent — a key element of the revenue raisers for the bill. Sinema has revealed little about her specific concerns but privately shared them with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.) in August, a spokesman said Thursday.

Broadly, Democrats have acknowledged that the $3.5 trillion price tag will be reduced — and the decrease could be considerable. The White House has thus far not publicly floated a lower number Biden would be comfortable with.

“We’ve been stuck on this $3.5 trillion number for a long time that everyone and their cousin knows is not the final number. So there’s a point where you’re got to start talking about different numbers,” Kessler said.

Biden made a trip to Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon to huddle privately with House Democrats and make the case for his agenda and for compromise.

Progressive lawmakers argue that the focus on reducing the bill’s budget impact overlooks the scale of the problems the bill addresses and overestimates the political importance of cutting the debt.

ADVERTISEMENT

A combined 42 percent of likely voters said the most important problem facing the U.S. is either the economy in general or the labor market specifically, according to a June poll from progressive research firm Data for Progress, while only 13 percent said the national debt.

Just 4 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of independents cited the national debt as their primary concern, and even GOP voters were more likely to cite the economy (26 percent) than the national debt (24 percent) as the biggest issue facing the U.S.

The share of Americans who worry a “great deal” about the national debt in nonpartisan Gallup polls had also fallen from 64 percent in March 2011 to 49 percent this year.

“At the end of the day, we're laser focused on trying to make sure that we establish universal pre-K, free community college, expanding Medicare. That's what we want to deliver for people and that's what we're fighting for,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHouse progressives call on Biden to end all new fossil fuel permitting Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Toomey takes aim at Schumer's spending windfall for NYC public housing MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters at the Capitol.