Senate infrastructure deal would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit, CBO says
WASHINGTON — The bipartisan infrastructure deal moving through the Senate will increase the federal deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars, Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeper said Thursday, contradicting the claims of the bill’s authors.
The estimate could strain political support for the $1 trillion infrastructure package among some Republicans who have said they are concerned about its impact on the deficit. Some of the GOP lawmakers who helped broker the deal are expected to continue supporting the package, however, making the fate of the measure unclear. A final vote could come as early as Thursday evening.
The legislation would directly add $256 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, the CBO found, although budget experts say that likely understates the cost of the legislation overall. That is because the bill also approves roughly $90 billion of spending in new “contract authority” over five years, funding that is authorized but will not be spent until appropriators decide where it goes.
Overall, the net impact of the bill on the deficit is approximately $350 billion over 10 years, said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group, citing the CBO score.
“The CBO score is hard to parse but the upshot is there’s about $350 billion of net deficits from this bill,” Goldwein said.
The report came as lawmakers were still racing toward swift passage of the bill.
The bill would spend hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrading much of the nation’s infrastructure, from its roads and bridges to its electric grid and lead water pipes, among other public works projects.
Lawmakers involved in the deal have repeatedly insisted that the measure would be paid for with new sources of revenue and other budget changes.
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal dynamics, said there was agreement within the bipartisan group to not judge the cost of the measure by the CBO score.
Congressional Republicans objected to tax hikes on the rich or corporations, while also eventually ruling out other measures proposed by the White House, such as stepped up enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service on tax cheats. The White House, meanwhile, ruled out higher taxes on Americans earning under $400,000, including a proposed gas tax.
Negotiators settled on a series of measures that experts say partially obscure the true budgetary impact of the plan. For instance, negotiators previously said their measure will raise $65 billion from the proceeds of selling the spectrum used by telecommunication companies — even though that sale occurred in February.
“The discrepancy is that the (negotiators) are taking credit for things that happened in the past as if they are new savings,” Goldwein said earlier this week.
“CBO scores the effect of your legislation on the budget. (The negotiators) are taking credit for things that will have no effect of things on the budget, because they already occurred.”
The political impact of the CBO’s score was not immediately clear.
Republicans who helped broker the deal, such as Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Susan Collins, R-Me., are expected to vote for the package despite a CBO score showing a high deficit impact. But it’s unclear how many other Republican senators would vote against the bill based on the CBO score.
“A handful of Republicans have indicated that their support is contingent on the bill not adding to the deficit. A several hundred billion dollar shortfalls could legitimately imperil that support,” said Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the Manhattan Institution, a libertarian-leaning think tank, and former aide to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
Riedl said increasing the deficit by about $100 billion would be “survivable” but not even paying for half the bill could prove a much more serious political problem.
Earlier this week, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation — another Congressional body that scores proposed tax changes — found that the bill’s tax measures would raise approximately $51 billion over 10 years.
The largest two new funding measures included about $28 billion from new information requirements for cryptocurrencies and $15 billion in fees on “superfund” sites.
The federal deficit topped a record $3 trillion last year due to the surge of federal spending authorized to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Interest rates have remained at historic lows, which makes federal borrowing cheap. Many economists also believe infrastructure spending can help alleviate inflationary pressures, by improving the nation’s productivity. But Republicans and tax experts warn that America’s long-run deficits could spiral out of control, particularly if the central bank raises interest rates and dramatically increases the cost of federal borrowing.