Dems Embrace a Budget ‘Gimmick’

Dems Embrace a Budget ‘Gimmick’

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Plus, one last obstacle to an infrastructure deal
Friday, July 23, 2021

It’s Friday! Covid cases are surging, the Tokyo Olympics have started and infrastructure negotiations seem like they’ll never end. Here’s what you should know as we head into the weekend.

One Last Obstacle to an Infrastructure Deal: Public Transit Funding

Negotiators looking to finalize a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal say they’re getting close, but funding for transit remains a hangup — and frustrations are starting to show as the talks drag on.

Republicans and Democrats are at odds over funding for highways and public transit. The bipartisan negotiators had seemingly agreed for the most part on an increase in funding for public transit, but Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), the top Republican on the Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over transit, reportedly objected. Now Republicans are looking to change a long-standing 80-20 split of money going to roads versus that going to rail and bus systems, according to reports.

"The split — giving transit one dollar for each four that highways get — has its roots in the 1980s, but has only been sustained by an uneasy truce between lawmakers,’ The Washington Post’s Ian Duncan reports. "Republicans have sometimes proposed scaling back transit funding, while Democrats have hoped to increase its share. The dispute has arisen again as a group of senators tries to wrap up the infrastructure package."

Republicans reportedly want to cut the transit share from 20% to 18%, arguing that transit agencies already got some $70 billion in Covid relief funds and that the funding split in recent years has seen more than 82% go to highways.

An infrastructure bill without transit? Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) suggested dropping transit funding from the infrastructure package entirely. "Transit funding has not yet been resolved. That’s important, but if we can’t resolve it then we could leave that out. I hope not," he said, according to The Hill. Portman, the lead GOP negotiator on the deal, told reporters that Democrats "are not being reasonable in their requests right now.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), an ally of President Joe Biden’s, told CNN Friday that he would support the package even if it excluded the transit portion because Democrats could add transit funding to the budget reconciliation package they plan to pass. But other Democrats have made clear they won’t go for that.

Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware said Thursday that they won’t vote for a package that lowers transit funds. "Robust funding for transit must be included in the legislation," they said in a statement. "We will not support any package that neglects this fundamental part of our nation’s infrastructure." Brown reportedly accused Republicans of stalling the talks in an effort to derail Biden’s agenda.

Why it matters: "The question of transit funding underscores different ideas among Republicans and Democrats about what infrastructure spending should achieve," writes the Post’s Ian Duncan. "Democrats argue that boosting transit funding would encourage more Americans to use buses and trains, reducing carbon emissions from cars and tackling congestion without building new road lanes."

The bottom line: The transit issue isn’t the only remaining difference, making it unclear if negotiators will be able to finalize a deal by early next week. But given how far they’ve gotten, it’s far too soon to think any of the remaining hurdles will scuttle a deal.

Democrats Defend Use of Budget ‘Gimmick’

Politico’s Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma point out that Democrats are embracing a budget tactic that they’ve derided in the past: using dynamic scoring.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has called dynamic scoring, which looks to factor in projected economic effects of policy changes, a "gimmick" and a way to "cook the books," Scholtes and Emma write. Yet, they say, "Democratic leaders are relying on that murky budget tactic to shrink the official cost of a $3.5 trillion plan to enact President Joe Biden’s most liberal commitments without Republican support, which is expected to add digits to the already $28 trillion national debt."

Politico’s duo explain that Democrats are hoping budget analysts will find that the party’s proposed tax changes, investments in social safety net programs and plans for combatting climate change will produce stronger long-term economic growth that translates into more revenue for the federal government. And they argue that projected revenue gains from their programs are far more realistic than Republican claims about growth from the 2017 tax cuts.

Still, dynamic forecasts are notoriously difficult to calculate accurately. "We’re way beyond the frontiers of what we can be confident of, economically," David Wessel, director of fiscal and monetary policy at the Brookings Institution, told Politico of dynamic scoring. "It’s just a way for members to pretend that they’re paying for something."

House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-KY) acknowledged that the budget involves some numbers games. "Everything I’ve seen us do — on both sides, with whoever is in the majority over the last 10 years in terms of putting budgets together — has been squishy," he said. "Everybody plays games with it."

Read the full story at Politico.

Number of the Day: 43,746

The seven-day average of confirmed new Covid-19 cases climbed near 44,000, surging 65% in just a week and roughly quadrupling from just over 11,000 as of June 22, according to Johns Hopkins University data cited by CNN.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday that just three states — Florida, Texas and Missouri — accounted for 40% of all cases nationwide, with the Sunshine State accounting for one in five cases for the second week in a row.

Quote of the Day: ‘The Unvaccinated Are Letting Us Down’

"It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down."

Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, after being asked on Thursday what it will take to get people to get vaccinated.

Asked about the comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said that the White House understands the frustration of those who are advocating for vaccinations but shied away from laying blame. "I don’t think our role is to place blame, but what we can do is provide accurate information to people who are not yet vaccinated about the risks they are incurring not only on themselves, but also the people around them," Psaki said.

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