No one knows precisely what’s in the massive Democratic spending bill—not even the Democrats who are supposed to vote for it. The plan started as a $3.5 trillion climate and welfare bill, and has now been whittled down to somewhere in the range of $1.5 trillion.
As negotiations have dragged on, however, President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the bill would cost nothing—or, more precisely, as Biden tweeted in September, “zero dollars.”
My Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars.
Instead of wasting money on tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion for big corporations and the wealthy, we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in working America.
And it adds zero dollars to the national debt.
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 26, 2021
This was always a fallacious argument: A $1.5 trillion spending bill still costs $1.5 trillion, even if the spending is offset by commensurate tax hikes. If you get a $100 bonus, and then use that money to go out for a dinner that costs $100, the dinner isn’t somehow free. It is, however, paid for via additional revenue.
Being generous, then, this argument was really just that the $1 trillion-plus in new spending would be paid for by tax hikes, which Democrats promised would fall mostly on the wealthy. The bill would cost however much it would cost. But it wouldn’t add to the debt. And, Biden and company have hastened to add, the new taxes would fall primarily on the rich.
Yet, as haggling over the bill has continued, it has become increasingly unlikely that this is a promise that Democrats can actually live up to, even as the bill has shrunk in scope and cost.
The problem is both simple and not obviously surmountable: Despite controlling both the House and the Senate, it is not at all clear that Democrats have the votes to raise sufficient taxes to pay for their agenda—or even to tax the rich and well-off, who, Democrats insist, will bear the brunt of the cost of their plans.
That problem has been brought to the fore over the last week, as it became clear that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.) would not support any rate increases. Democrats had planned to raise a significant amount …