One week ago, on his 99th day in office, President Biden addressed the nation in a specially convened joint session of Congress.
The pitch was predictable. Biden painted a vivid, politically opportunistic picture of a resurgent America rising from the ashes under his and the Democrats’ leadership. He ran through his oft-repeated list of the challenges he considers most threatening – COVID, climate change, systemic racism, white supremacy, the supposed insurrection. But the principal message of his speech was his proposal that we spend our way into liberal utopia.
Never mind that many Americans – I’d argue that it’s at least half – don’t want to go there. Biden and the Democrats have no mandate for their precipitous leftward shift. Biden won the 2020 election by a razor-thin (and contested) electoral margin, the Senate is split 50/50 and Democrats hold a scant six-seat margin in the House – one of the most evenly divided congresses in American history.
But even if we did want to buy into Biden’s hard left turn, we can’t afford it.
In his speech, Biden rolled out a mouth-watering list of wonderful things his agenda would produce (hence, the initial favorable public reaction) – but he never mentioned the cost.
The previous administration already enacted $3.5 trillion in COVID relief, considered essential at that time and receiving bipartisan support.
Then, in March the new administration – with zero Republican support – passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan, at $2.7 trillion, and his American Families Plan at $1.8 trillion. As proposed, only 100 days in, the combined Biden administration new spending would total $6.4 trillion – a mind-numbing amount, digging us far deeper into our unprecedented economic hole.
As government spending has grown over the past decade, we’ve slipped from discussion of dollar figures in billions (with a B), into trillions (with a T). Those like-sounding labels makes the price tags feel like more of the same. They’re not.
In previous columns, I’ve struggled to find ways to express the enormous (exponential, in math terms) difference between billions and trillions. Here’s another try:
Many health-minded adults these days like to use their Fitbits or Apple-watches to keep track of their daily walking steps. 10,000 steps per day is a usual target. If we stick with it, those steps really start to add up. Log 10,000 every day, seven days a week, rain or shine, and in just a little over three months you’ll hit the million-step mark. Well done.
So, why not shoot for a billion? Ah, but there’s a problem. A billion is a thousand millions, so at 10K per day, it would take 274 years to reach a billion steps. That’s 30 years longer than the lifetime to date of our republic. A trillion steps? Forget it. That would take almost 300,000 years, compared to the only 2,100 years since the birth of Jesus Christ.
To summarize: a million is a big number, a billion is a huge number and a trillion is a mind-boggling, incomprehensibly gigantic number.
Joe Biden’s proposed spending spree is economic malpractice, foolhardy and dangerous. Borrowing that much money is infeasible; Biden’s tax increases on “the rich” won’t get us there and will cause substantial cascading harm to all economic strata.
So, we’ll be printing most of it. That will lead inevitably to inflation – and as we see every day, inflation is already here, taking a big bite in the cost of living. Gasoline prices have risen sharply, pushing up the cost of all goods and services. Supermarket prices are going up across the board, along with smaller portions and fewer items on sale. And costs of building supplies – lumber, fasteners, plastics – are going through the roof.
Inflation is an insidious, ever-increasing tax, and its primary victims are always the poor.
At this point in our recovery, massive additional spending is unnecessary. When Joe Biden took office on January 20th, the US economy was already roaring back to life. This year’s first quarter Gross National Product was within a percent of that in the last quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic.
In his speech, Joe Biden peppered his description of his proposed agenda with adjectives like "sensible" and "reasonable." But his lurch to the left speaks for itself, the polar opposite of his trumpeted commitment to unite all Americans.
If he truly wants to earn his premature accolades as the president who restores American values, now is the time for him to pull both sides together and chart a truly viable success path – a centrist one, as promised. It’s not too late.