A trillion dollars used to be a lot of money, even in Washington.
Now, a trillion-dollar spending bill is a trifle barely worth arguing over and the stuff of bipartisan consensus.
Oscar Wilde famously said that nothing succeeds like excess, but even he might blanch at the shameless profligacy that is America’s new normal.
In their wisdom, Senate Republicans decided to help President Joe Biden pass a portion of his blow-out fiscal agenda, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that is a prelude to an even bigger, vastly more consequential $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
The infrastructure bill itself is, as fiscal analyst Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute notes, “one of the largest non-emergency spending bills of the past 50 years.”
Republicans told themselves that only about half, $550 billion, is new spending, and that by going along they can take the heat off of Democratic moderates Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin who are being constantly pressured to ditch the filibuster.
Perhaps, but there’s no doubt that the GOP has blessed, and lent a bipartisan imprimatur, to a portion of the president’s hoped-for historic spending spree. In so doing, they have taken at least a little ownership of an agenda they should want no part of.
Republicans will have much less influence, and perhaps none, on the next spate of spending, which is the so-called “soft” infrastructure (aka, a wish list of progressive social programs) after the “hard” infrastructure in the bipartisan bill (roads, bridges, rail).
Under the reconciliation process, tax and spending bills evade the filibuster in the Senate, so Democrats can pass whatever they want so long as they hold all 50 of their senators.
The sheer numbers here are jaw dropping. Including the $1.9 trillion so-called COVID-19 relief bill from earlier this year, Biden wants to spend nearly $6 trillion in three measures passed within months of each other. In 2019, by point of comparison, the entire federal budget was $4.4 trillion (and at the time, President Trump wasn’t exactly tightening the country’s fiscal belt).
The tide of new spending will add to already extraordinary levels of red ink.
The White House projects that the U.S. debt will reach 109.7% of GDP this year, higher than at the end of World War II when we had abandoned all fiscal restraint to win an existential struggle against two expansionistic totalitarian empires.
The Senate instructions for the reconciliation bill say that only half of it has to be paid for. Democrats will claim a dog’s breakfast of purported savings and painless revenue increases, but the bulk of the new dollars will have to come from a tax increase that easily could rank as one of the biggest ever.
The parameters of the reconciliation bill were crafted by the socialist chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Bernie Sanders, and it shows.
The priorities read like crib notes from his old presidential campaigns. The bill would add new government programs for the young and the old, from universal pre-K to tuition-free community college, to family and medical leave, to expansions of Obamacare and Medicare.
It would make a big nod to the Green New Deal with a slew of new clean energy initiatives, including “smart agriculture” and “environmental justice,” and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, a climate-alarmist homage to FDR.
It is a sign of the insane ambition of Biden’s Democrats that they hope as well to include a sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants in the bill, a measure that is sure to be struck by the Senate parliamentarian on procedural grounds.
Relatively moderate Democrats in the Senate and the House, where the party also has little margin for error, have grumbled about the size of the reconciliation bill. It will be up to them to decide whether the party steps back from the precipice or goes all-in on Biden-Sanders fiscal radicalism.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.