In recent weeks, the Biden administration has begun asserting that the spending bill independent experts believe could cost $5.5 trillion over a decade will actually cost “zero.” Putting aside the way these patronizing assertions insult voters’ intelligence, does the kernel of the Biden claim—that the Democratic reconciliation proposals will be fully paid-for—stand up to scrutiny?
In a word, hardly. Multiple elements in the history of Democrats’ last big spending bill, Obamacare, have turned it into a budget buster, suggesting that Biden’s “zero” legislation will follow the same fiscally irresponsible path.
Budget Gimmicks Galore
First, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress employed numerous fiscal gimmicks. While drafting the bill, they delayed implementation of the bill’s main provisions from 2013 to 2014, lowering the upfront spending.
In his September 2009 speech to Congress, Barack Obama claimed his proposal “will cost around $900 billion over ten years.” Not only did the final legislation come in hundreds of billions over his claim, it also counted the law’s Medicare savings as both funding Obamacare and extending Medicare’s solvency—a budgetary trick refuted by both the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Medicare actuary.
Another Obamacare gimmick came in the CLASS Act, a long-term care program. Kent Conrad, then the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, famously called CLASS “a Ponzi scheme of the…