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President Biden seems determined to sell his agenda by insulting the intelligence of the American people.
"The cost of the Build Back Better Agenda is $0," the White House tweeted on Sunday. "The president's plan won't add to our national deficit, and no one making under $400,000 per year will see their taxes go up a single penny. It's fully paid for by ensuring big corporations and the very wealthy pay their fair share."
This isn't the first time in recent weeks Biden's team has told the public the still-in-flux reconciliation bill will cost "zero dollars," and it's a terrible argument which sounds like a swindle. Democrats want to do a lot of things with this bill — paid family leave, universal pre-K, extended child tax credits, free community college, and more — and none of that stuff comes without a cost. Indeed, even a small version of the reconciliation bill would probably come with a $1.5 trillion price tag. The whole package could cost as much as $3.5 trillion over 10 years.
So what the White House is really trying to tell voters is not that these programs won't cost anything, but that somebody else will bear the financial burden and the new spending won't increase the national debt. Fine. Making it easier for families to raise and educate their children is a worthy investment, and it won't really hurt society's winners for them to pick up this tab. That's a fair argument to make.
If only it stopped there. Instead, Democrats have decided to stretch their credibility by going a step further to claim the package costs nothing. That's plainly false, and it makes the agenda a much easier target for Republican criticism. "Trying to redefine the cost of a $3.5 trillion bill as zero must rank among the most shameless, patently absurd attempts to change reality through a talking point ever attempted," conservative Rich Lowry wrote last month. He's not wrong.
Politicians tend toward hyperbole when selling themselves and their ideas to the public. And maybe the lesson of the last few years is that our leaders can say anything and get away with it. Still, it would be best if Democrats dropped their "zero dollar" argument for Biden's agenda. Americans know you can't get something for nothing.