It’s a bad sign when a president chooses to leak details about his proposed $6 trillion budget as a sort of news dump on the eve of Memorial Day weekend. Then again, it’s also a bad sign when a New York Times story about a Democratic president scares you. But such is the state of affairs.
As a conservative, I’ve come to expect Times coverage of Democratic plans to be, shall we say, flattering. But Jim Tankersley’s piece on Joe Biden’s proposed $6 trillion budget was chock full of alarmingly quotable lines that seem to confirm many of the concerns I have expressed in this space, which is to say that it all seems consistent with the liberal utopian dream: spend money hand-over-fist with no major consequences and it will magically take care of itself.
Here’s what we learned: Based on Biden’s proposed budget, the U.S. is about to fund the “highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II as [Biden] looks to fund a sweeping economic agenda…” This plan is framed as an “investment” in our future, with investment apparently being a euphemism for a lead weight. Although it calls for more “tax revenue,” we would still “run significant deficits.” Oh yeah, and there’s this: “Total debt held by the public would more than exceed the annual value of economic output, rising to 117 percent of the size of the economy in 2031. By 2024, debt as a share of the economy would rise to its highest level in American history, eclipsing a World War II-era record.”
The World War II reference is both reassuring and concerning. After all, 75 years ago, we didn’t just survive; we thrived. However, we were fighting an existential war on two fronts. Our present-day circumstances don’t even compare. Barring unforeseen events, the pandemic (which we’ve already spent trillions on) is receding. Maybe, in Biden’s mind, investing in green energy is vital because climate change is the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Or maybe he sees infrastructure spending as a way to keep pace with the emerging threat of China. Or maybe he’s just sold on being the next FDR, but he lacks the depression and the world war. I’m not sure.
The good news is that sometime in the 2030s (if all goes according to plan), deficits will begin shrinking. Of course, that just means we would theoretically be growing the debt at a slower rate—not that we would be shrinking the debt. The plan assumes that future leaders wouldn’t decide to spend more money, either as a way to deal with some new crisis or to juice their own political fortunes. The other “good” news is that if Biden’s full agenda was enacted, his aides predict it would yield about 2 percent annual growth and a 4.1 percent unemployment rate. The former is depressing, though the latter would be encouraging.
The Times also notes that, “The forecasts continue to show his administration has little fear of rapid inflation breaking out across the economy...” Even if you don’t believe inflation is a possibility (I’m not so sure) and don’t care about the prospect of saddling your children and grandchildren with an unsustainable tax burden that effectively mortgages their future, there’s still the matter of the massive expansion of the administrative state.
Take childcare. If the government simply writes checks to parents, that could certainly have unintended negative economic consequences. But it’s better than creating yet another big government bureaucracy that removes parents’ moral agency. But guess which option creates more government jobs (i.e., Democratic voters)?
For a conservative, finding out that liberals want a tax-and-spend “nanny state” is sort of like finding out there’s gambling at Rick’s. What’s more frustrating and demoralizing is seeing the Republican Party’s complicity. We can blame Donald Trump for normalizing massive spending and ignoring small government. He sabotaged the Georgia U.S. Senate elections, throwing control of the upper chamber to the Democrats and making all of this spending possible. Republicans aren’t just technically unable to muster a numerical opposition or morally disqualified from doing so. Frankly, they just aren’t that interested in it.
Not long ago, a young, popular conservative named Paul Ryan warned about tackling the debt crisis “before it tackles us.” Ryan, the vice presidential nominee and Speaker of the House, tried (but failed) to revamp entitlement spending. Per usual, Trump completely undermined his chances.
So it is, perhaps, fitting that on the eve of Biden’s budget proposal, Ryan and two of Trump’s mini-mes, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, delivered dueling speeches that cast dueling visions. Ryan’s vision was a fiscally conservative, yet compassionate, GOP—in the mold of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. Gaetz and Taylor’s vision is decidedly more populist and angry, which is to say it’s in the mold of Donald Trump.
Trump’s forces won the civil war over the Republican Party. But what have we lost in the process? The damage transcends pecuniary concerns, but the dollar amount is numbered in trillions.
It’s Joe Biden’s budget, now.