You knew the Biden Build Back Better Budget Bomb would have plenty of spin on it when New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand revised the dictionary in its honor: “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”
Americans weren’t much flattered by the suggestion that word games might lead them to confuse social welfare programs with roads and bridges. Democrats dialed down the cute and placed their bets on fuzzy math.
The House Ways and Means Committee’s $3.5 trillion tax bill purports to cover the first 10 years of a glorious progressive future yet cuts off child tax credits after 2025 and child care funding after 2027. It shifts the costs of universal pre-K, paid family leave and other benefits to the states over time.
Will Democrats let the programs expire on schedule? No, they’ll fight in the name of all that is holy to extend them, and they’ll almost certainly succeed. But stuffing the legislation with make-believe sunset clauses allows them to adjust the sticker price as needed to make the sale. President Biden seemed to offer a discount for the ages on September 24:
“We talk about price tags. It is zero price tag on the debt. We’re paying — we’re going to pay for everything we spend.”
In case anyone thought he meant that his agenda would literally cost zero dollars, Biden clarified his remarks on Twitter:
“My Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars.”
The war on Webster resumed. When White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeated the president’s declaration, we knew they were serious.
Progressives who get out of bed looking for ways to make America more like Europe never tire of comparing the serenity and ease of European life to the misery of life under American capitalism. But they have little to say about two differences between America and Europe that, unlike the planned federal bureau of babysitting, affect everyone.
The first is wealth — and the standards of living it underwrites. Commentator David Harsanyi illustrates the point:
“If the United States invaded Britain tomorrow and made it the 51st state, it would probably be the second poorest behind Alabama and ahead of only Mississippi. If Germany, Sweden, or Denmark joined the union, they would rank in the bottom third of American states in per capita GDP, median annual income, and a host of other quantifiable measures of wealth. Italy, Spain, and Portugal, among others, would be at the bottom.”
The other difference is taxes. Europeans pay much more in VAT, a kind of national sales tax, than Americans pay in state and local sales taxes. European workers pay more than we do in social security taxes, and their income taxes reach farther down the income ladder than ours.
Denmark, a darling of American liberals, combines its income and social security taxes and honors some pretty ordinary taxpayers with its top rate. The Tax Foundation explains:
“… in Denmark the top statutory personal income tax rate of 55.9 percent applies to all income over 1.3 times the average income. From a U.S. perspective, this means that all income over $70,000 (1.3 times the average U.S. income of about $55,000) would be taxed at 55.9 percent.”
Imagine making $70,000 in Boston or Seattle or any city where that’s just-getting-by money and you have an opportunity to work harder and add a few thousand to your income. Wouldn’t it be exciting to know the IRS would let you keep nearly half of the extra?
Americans will never stand for European-level taxation, and Democrats know it. Biden and his congressional allies are promising to duplicate Europe’s social safety nets without doing what every country they admire does: tax the middle class.
They may confine the squeeze to the rich, as promised. But the definition of “rich” can change if the need arises. Look at the recent history of “infrastructure” and “zero.”
Michael Smith is a freelance opinion writer in Georgetown, Kentucky.