Democrats are crafting an enormous reconciliation bill that envisions spending $3.5 trillion over the next decade to dramatically expand the social safety net – but a new analysis published this week shows the measure may cost $2 trillion more than expected.
The spending agreement, announced last week, would invest billions in an array of planned health, education, environment and social programs as Democrats seek to use their power monopoly in Washington to squeeze through a slate of left-wing priorities.
But the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) projected the bill could cost as much as $5.5 trillion over the next decade based on a fact sheet with top-line spending figures.
"In order to fit these proposals within a $3.5 trillion budget target, lawmakers apparently intend to have some policies expire before the end of the ten-year budget window, using this oft-criticized budget gimmick to hide their true cost," CRFB said in the analysis, which assumed all of the policy provisions were permanent.
That's in part because lawmakers may try to include proposals in the bill that would sunset after a few years, rather than making them permanent. But lawmakers often pass multiyear extensions down the road, even though the Congressional Budget Office – when it scores the legislation – assumes those measures will expire.
"Unfortunately, lawmakers often violate these principles by establishing or extending policies on a temporary basis when they intend such policies to be permanent," CRFB said. "Doing so can help reduce a policy’s reported ten-year cost or help legislation circumvent rules that prohibit long-term increases in debt."
For instance, in 2017, Republicans passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that included several income tax provisions slated to sunset within a few years – but lawmakers indicated at the time they had no intention of letting that happen.
"This budget gimmick, which would obscure the true cost of the legislation and put program beneficiaries at risk, was rightly criticized in 2017 when used for some of the 2017 tax cuts," the non-partisan group said. "It would be unwise and irresponsible to use arbitrary expirations and sunsets to obscure the true cost of this legislation."
Even though Democrats plan to pass the measure without any GOP votes, the budget still faces a long road to passage: The party needs to secure lock-step support for the bill in order to use their slimmest-possible Senate majority to pass it using a procedural tool known as reconciliation, which allows them to bypass a 60-vote Republican filibuster.
Progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had pushed for as much as $6 trillion in new spending, while moderate lawmakers have pushed for a smaller figure that won't add to the nation's already record-high deficit.
"We know we have a long road to go," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last week. "If we pass this, this is the most profound change to help American families in generations."
Schumer wants Democrats to agree to move forward with the $3.5 trillion blueprint this week.