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White House claims GOP plans would add $3 trillion to national debt

Republicans boo Biden's debt limit comments
Republicans boo Biden's comments on the debt ceiling, Medicare and Social Security 02:34

Washington — President Biden went on the offensive against Republicans Wednesday, saying in effect that their policies would add $3 trillion to the national debt. The president delivered a speech on the economy at the IBEW Local 26 in Lanham, Maryland, as Democrats and Republicans spar over their economic visions for the future. 

The White House is charging the GOP with hypocrisy for favoring tax policies that could push the accumulated $31.4 trillion national debt higher, according to a memo issued Wednesday. Yet Mr. Biden also wants to preserve some of the same tax cuts as Republicans so long as the approach is "fiscally responsible."

"Let's be crystal clear about what's happening," Mr. Biden's prepared remarks stated. "If you add up all the proposals that my Republican friends in Congress have offered so far, they would add another $3 trillion to the debt over 10 years. When I introduce my budget in a few weeks, you'll see that people making less than $400,000 a year will not see a single penny increase in taxes, nor have they for the past two years. You'll see that my budget will invest in America, lower costs and protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, while cutting the deficit by $2 trillion over 10 years."

The speech is the latest evolution in a political and economic debate that will play out over several months. Mr. Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy need to reach a deal by mid-summer on raising the government's legal borrowing authority or else the government could lack the funds to pay its bills and default. On Wednesday, Mr. Biden called McCarthy a "decent guy." 

McCarthy says they should agree on a path toward balancing the budget, posting on Twitter last Friday: "No more blank checks for runaway government spending."

The president detailed a recent exchange with the GOP speaker in a speech Tuesday in Washington to county government officials. He told them that McCarthy "made it real clear to me what he wants to do. He says he's not going to raise any taxes at all on anybody. He just wants to cut programs."

The president said that Republican lawmakers should present their budget plan to the public, just as the White House intends to do on March 9.

"I believe we could be fiscally responsible without risking — threatening to send our country into chaos," Mr. Biden said Tuesday of debt limit talks.

But the actual path of the national debt could hinge on the upcoming expiration of individual tax cuts that President Donald Trump signed into law in 2017. Extending those tax cuts would in theory raise the national debt, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office based its projections on them lapsing after 2025. 

The White House memo said Republicans would increase the debt by $2.7 trillion by prolonging those tax cuts, in addition to cutting a corporate minimum tax established by Mr. Biden and other policies that would add to the debt.

The White House noted that the extension of the Trump-era tax overhaul would give a $175,000 tax cut to families with incomes over $4 million. The size of that tax cut is roughly double the median U.S. household income.

But the same White House memo adds that Mr. Biden would like to preserve some of the same tax cuts as Republicans, just not those that benefit the wealthy. Mr. Biden pledged during the 2020 campaign to not raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000, so letting the tax cuts expire could be viewed as a tax hike on the middle class.

The Tax Policy Center, a think tank, estimated when the law was passed that 53% of taxpayers would see their IRS bills increase in 2027 after the cuts expire. About 70% of those solidly in the middle class — the middle 40% to 60% of all taxpayers — would owe more.

The fact sheet previewing the speech said the president is committed to a "fiscally responsible approach to continuing current tax policies" for people earning less than $400,000. Until Mr. Biden issues his budget, it's not entirely clear what that could mean for the national debt, though he promised in last week's State of the Union address to cut deficits by $2 trillion.

That leaves Republicans and Democrats theoretically in agreement on keeping taxes low for most people, while leaders in both parties have pledged no cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said that lawmakers should consider everything if the goal is deficit reduction.

"If we truly want to address our fiscal situation — as we should — policymakers should put all their cards on the table, abandon their demagoguing, and come together for the good of the American people," she said in a statement.

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