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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 BidenProgressives hit back after moderates take aim at Pelosi John Kerry expresses optimism about upcoming climate summit Biden’s Red Queen justice: How he destroyed both the investigation and the reputation of border agents 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.

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 TrumpBiden’s Red Queen justice: How he destroyed both the investigation and the reputation of border agents Trump asks judge to force Twitter to lift ban Trump teases Schumer about occasional Ocasio-Cortez challenge 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 visits Capitol with agenda in the balance The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Dems push infrastructure vote another day amid infighting Watch live: White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds briefing 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 multi-trillion spending bill.

GOP lawmakers peppered Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenAlabama clears plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Democrats still at odds over Biden agenda Debt fight revives Democrats’ filibuster angst 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 ScottMore than half of police killings go unreported, study finds Newsom signs police reform bill aiming to increase accountability ‘Only the Rich Can Play’ documents how Republican program to help the poor didn’t 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 non-partisan budget analyst.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden sees support from independents drop The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Democrats still at odds over Biden agenda House sends bill to Biden to avert government shutdown at midnight MORE (R-Ky.) and top Senate Budget Committee Republican Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Congress can celebrate Banned Book Week by leading on free expression Trump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as ‘racist,’ ‘xenophobic’ in 2016: report 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 Center 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.

The White House’s argument has thus far failed to move moderate Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Democrats dial down the Manchin tension Progressives cheer, moderates groan as Biden visit caps chaotic week  The Memo: Progressives exult in new-found power MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaProgressives cheer, moderates groan as Biden visit caps chaotic week  The Memo: Progressives exult in new-found power On The Money — Biden to Democrats: Come together 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 SchumerTrump teases Schumer about occasional Ocasio-Cortez challenge Biden sees support from independents drop Democrats remaking America with taxpayer dollars 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.

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-CortezProgressives hit back after moderates take aim at Pelosi Trump teases Schumer about occasional Ocasio-Cortez challenge Do the well-off really not pay their fair share of taxes? MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters at the Capitol.

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