Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Still Relies on One Big Accounting ‘Gimmick’

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Still Relies on One Big Accounting ‘Gimmick’


The bipartisan infrastructure bill is slowly making its way through the Senate. While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continue to squabble over the pace of progress and the consideration of amendments, the package still faces some serious questions over its proposed financing.

The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein reports that, even as Senate negotiators scrapped some criticized financing measures from the bill, budget watchers say they’re still relying on some fuzzy math and creative accounting as they look to pay for some $550 billion in new spending.

“Before, they were doing four or five gimmicks. Now they just picked one gimmick and just made it much bigger,” Marc Goldwein, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tells the Post. “So, maybe less in style points.”

CRFB estimates that the proposed offsets in the legislation — revenue and savings from repurposing unused COVID relief funds, lowering prescription drug costs, improving cryptocurrency information reporting and a host of other measures — will only raise about half as much as lawmakers claim they will.

“Lawmakers claim these policies will save at least $483 billion and that the legislation will boost economic growth enough to generate an additional $56 billion of savings,” the committee said in a recent blog post. “This $539 billion of reported offsets would nearly cover the $550 billion of new spending. However, we believe actual savings would be closer to $200 billion before dynamic scoring, only covering about half of the new spending overall.”

The more than $200 billion in savings from repurposing unused Covid relief money, for example, may largely come down to the difference between what the program was originally expected to cost and what was actually spent — savings that would exist regardless of the new infrastructure bill, and that are being counted selectively, Stein reports: “While some coronavirus relief provisions ended up costing less than projected, others — not mentioned by the bill's authors — ended up costing more.”

Stein notes that some economists say it’s not necessary to offset the new spending given that interest rates are low and the nation’s infrastructure needs are increasingly urgent. He adds that the negotiators behind the bill have defended their numbers — and have agreed to not judge the package according to the Congressional Budget Office’s official score, which is likely to find that it will add to federal budget deficits.

“When I asked about the fuzzy math behind the pay-fors of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, one senior Democrat responded: "Let us have our bridges, Jeff," Stein tweeted Tuesday.

The bottom line: Questionable accounting may not prevent senators who want to vote for the bill from doing so, but it could at least add some political pressure. The conservative group Heritage Action for America on Tuesday called on senators to vote against the infrastructure bill, saying it "recklessly spends $1 trillion."