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‘Build Back Better’ Programs Will Add $3 Trillion to Deficit if Made Permanent, CBO Projects

President Joe Biden speaks before signing four bills from the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

At the request of multiple Republican senators, the Democrats fighting to advance President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the gargantuan reconciliation package that creates and expands a boatload of social programs, obtained a modified budgetary effects score from the Congressional Budget Office Friday.

The office’s most recent analysis finds that if major provisions in BBB were not embedded with sunset clauses and were made permanent, which Republicans argue is the Democrats’ hidden intention, the bill would add $2.8 trillion more to the national debt over the next decade than the original CBO score projected.

In response to the new score, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham slammed what he said were misleading tactics by the Democrats to attempt to mute the true budget burden of BBB. “They put a sunset on the program is to lower the cost. It’s a budget gimmick..it’s going to be a death blow to our economy,” he said.

During a briefing Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the new score and Republican reactions to it.

“This is not a CBO score. This is a fake CBO score. It’s not about the existing bill anybody is debating or voting on. This is about proposing the extension of programs that has not been agreed to without the commitment of the president…,” she said. 

The first CBO score calculated that Biden’s multi-trillion dollar agenda would add $367 billion to the deficit over ten years, later expected to be cut nearly in half by enhanced IRS tax enforcement, though many experts remain skeptical the stepped up enforcement will yield significant revenue. This assessment came after Biden and other Democrats drilled home the talking point that the plan would cost “zero dollars.”

“My Build Back Better Act is going to reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over ten years,” Biden boasted.

On November 19, the House passed a negotiated and slightly trimmed version of the spending bill along party lines. It has since been suspended in partisan gridlock in the Senate, with the two moderate Democratic holdouts, Senators Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin, still expressing strong reservations about its size and scope as well as long term implications for the U.S. fiscal house. Their fears that the package could fuel unchecked inflation are likely to be exacerbated after Friday.

Last month, Republican lawmakers, such as Senator John Cornyn, asked the CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation to publish a score of the legislation that would assume every program would remain in place indefinitely rather than be phased out gradually.

“I am concerned that the CBO score of H.R. 5376 is artificially low because of a number of timing gimmicks. Specifically, the legislation includes a number of arbitrary sunsets and expirations of several expensive programs, which disguise the true cost of making these policies permanent,”  Cornyn wrote to the CBO director and the chief of staff of the JCT, echoing many of his GOP colleagues.

While Democrats scorned the Republicans’ requests, accusing them of creating a political spectacle and distraction, the agencies technically work for Congress and are therefore obliged to generate specific reports for members.

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