November 29, 2021

Debate Weighs Price of Biden’s Big Plan vs. Not Acting

Many Democrats fear the United States cannot afford to wait to curb climate change, help more women enter the work force and invest in feeding and educating its most vulnerable children. In their view, failing to invest in those issues means the country risks incurring painful costs that will slow economic growth.

“We can’t afford not to do these kinds of investments,” David Kamin, a deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview.

Take climate change: The Democratic think tank Third Way estimates that if Congress passes an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. companies will invest an additional $1.3 trillion in the construction and deployment of low-emission energy like wind and solar power and energy-efficient technologies over the next decade, and $10 trillion by 2050. White House officials say that if the country fails to reduce emissions, the federal government will face mounting costs for relief and other aid to victims of climate-related disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.

“Those are the table stakes for the reconciliation and infrastructure debate,” said Josh Freed, the senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way. “It’s why we think the cost of inaction, from an economic perspective, is so enormous.”

But to some centrist Democrats, who have expressed deep reservations about spending $2 trillion on a bill to advance Mr. Biden’s plans, “affordable” still means what it did in decades past: not adding to the federal debt. The budget deficit has swelled in recent years, reaching $1 trillion in 2019 from additional spending and tax cuts that did not pay for themselves, before topping $3 trillion last year amid record spending to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Manchin says he fears too much additional spending would feed rising inflation, which could push up borrowing costs and make it harder for the country to manage its budget deficit. He has made clear that he would like the final bill to raise more revenue than it spends in order to reduce future deficits and the threat of a debt crisis. Mr. Biden says his proposals would help fight inflation by reducing the cost of child care, housing, education and more.

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