More questions for the Senate

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has called the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., her “personal hero” and has taken up his mantle as the “maverick” of the Senate -- unafraid to buck her own party or insist on bipartisan cooperation.

Well, if she wants to be a true maverick, she should follow McCain’s example and kill the budget reconciliation bill.

Four years ago, McCain delivered the vote that helped stop GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare using the same party-line budget reconciliation process Democrats are now using to pass President Joe Biden’s massive social spending plan. In doing so, McCain criticized Republicans for trying to pass legislation “from the top down, without any support from the other side.” He praised the Senate’s “arcane rules and customs” that were “deliberately intended to require broad cooperation” and “compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems.”

“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate?” he asked. “Bring [the bill] to the floor for amendment and debate, and see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side.”

Sinema should be asking the very same questions when it comes to the Democrats’ massive reconciliation bill. Like McCain, she has allowed the process to play out. But she also made clear she “would not be able to support a bill that cost $3.5 trillion.”

That is exactly what the bill’s programs will cost. Democrats claim to have lowered the cost of the bill from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion over 10 years. In truth, they did not scale back their bill to cuts its costs. Instead, they hid the real cost by using early “sunset” expiration dates for the social spending programs in the bill -- knowing full well that once an entitlement is created, it is almost never allowed to expire.

At the request of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., the Congressional Budget Office scored the 10-year cost of 18 proposals in the bill. For example, Democrats claim their child tax credit will cost only $185 billion. That’s because it ends after one year in the House bill, something no serious person believes will happen. According to CBO, the 10-year cost of the child credit is $1.597 trillion. Similarly, Democrats claim that their health insurance subsidies will cost only $74 billion, but that’s because they “expire” in 2025 and 2026. According to CBO, the 10-year cost is $220 billion. The 10-year costs of just these two programs comes to $1.817 trillion -- more than Democrats claim their entire bill will cost.

But Democrats don’t stop there. They claim their expansion of the earned-income tax credit will cost just $13 billion because it ends after one year; the 10-year cost is $135 billion. They claim their child-care and preschool programs cost only $381 billion; the 10 -year cost is $752 billion. They claim that home- and community-based care will cost just $146 billion; the 10-year cost is $209 billion. It is a similar story for the other programs in the bill.

They also use tax gimmicks. For example, they restore the SALT (state and local tax) deduction -- raising it to $80,000 from $10,000 today. But then they set it to expire at the end of 2025 -- four years from now -- and claim that this expiration will raise $15 billion in revenue to pay for other programs in the bill. CBO says it will cost $245 billion over 10 years.

Add it all up, and the cost of the 18 programs analyzed by CBO is $3.47 trillion over 10 years -- almost exactly the amount Sinema said she would never support. This is consistent with the nonpartisan Penn Wharton Budget Model, which estimated in October that the bill could cost $3.9 trillion over the next decade without the fake “sunsets.” And while Biden has insisted the cost of the bill is $0, CBO reports that if the provisions were extended over 10 years, it would increase the deficit by $3 trillion.

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Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

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