Published July 15, 2021
Senate Democrats have apparently set a $3.5 trillion spending target for the budget reconciliation bill they plan to pass this fall. The battle to come will likely shape American politics for years no matter how it turns out.
No one should consider the dollar amount as etched in stone. Presidents propose; Congresses dispose. And battles between progressives and centrists over all the details will continue to the very end. President Ronald Reagan had to whittle down his initial budget and tax cut proposals to gain congressional approval, and there’s no reason to think the same process won’t result in a smaller package for a final vote.
Even a much smaller bill — say, one that amounts to “only” $2 trillion — would still be a massive expansion of government programs. President Barack Obama’s large 2009 stimulus was for temporary spending measures, much like President Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package passed this year. Whatever is included in the reconciliation bill would be for ongoing expenditures, no matter what the formal expiration date for each is. While other large, new programs — such as Obamacare and President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D drug program — have been approved in recent decades, the Democratic reconciliation bill would surely be the largest multi-program expansion of federal spending since the Great Society in 1965.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.