The Biden Budget’s $2 Trillion Magic Asterisk

The Biden White House has found a new way to make its spending-and-tax proposals appear less expensive: Simply don’t count them in the budget totals.

The president’s long-awaited (and delayed) fiscal year 2023 budget counts as the first “real” budget proposal of the Biden administration. (These budgets usually take more than a year to produce, and so last year’s version by a brand-new administration was understandably rushed and truncated.) This year’s budget was expected to flesh out the details of President Biden’s incredibly expensive agenda.

At first glance, Biden proposes $1.4 trillion in additional spending and $2.5 trillion in new taxes over the decade. Discretionary spending, education, and public health increases would be matched with massive corporate tax hikes. By 2032, the deficit would rise to $1.8 trillion, and total deficits would exceed $14 trillion over the next decade. Still, the White House points to federal spending reaching 23.9 percent of GDP, and taxes reaching 19.1 percent of GDP a decade from now—significantly higher than normal, but not revolutionary.

During the 2020 campaign, Biden proposed $11 trillion in new spending over the decade. Has the White House scaled back or abandoned its more expensive proposals? No. It simply did not include them in the totals. Last year, the White House released a detailed Build Back Better proposal that represented the centerpiece of its tax and spending agenda. The House then passed a modified version of this plan pairing $2.4 trillion in new initiatives with $2.1 trillion in offsets over the decade (CBO confirmed that these new initiatives would cost $5 trillion over the decade, and produce $3 trillion in deficits, if the fake expiration dates are removed). The proposal is seemingly dead in the Senate, yet the White House has not stopped pushing this legislation.

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