A Reality Check on Reconciliation

Special Guests: Ben Ritz

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This week on Facing the Future, we heard from Ben Ritz, Director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) and the author of a new paper, “Reconciling with Reality: The Top Priorities for Building Back Better.” 

Concord Coalition Policy Director Tori Gorman joined the conversation with Ritz, and in our closing segment, Concord Coalition Chief Economist Steve Robinson joined Gorman and me for an update on developments in Washington, including a big increase in Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment for 2022 and a late surprise in Fiscal Year 2021 revenues.

Democrats are facing many hard choices as they try to shrink an ambitious agenda with an initial price tag of $3.5 trillion into a single bill with a maximum cost of roughly $2 trillion over 10 years. President Biden’s entire domestic agenda hangs in the balance.

Some Democrats have argued that the best way to lower costs while maximizing impact is to put a time limit on the new benefits. In other words, do it all but just for a few years. Others have argued that Democrats should focus on a targeted subset of their full agenda and make sure that these items are fully paid for on a permanent basis.

Ritz said that he favors the targeted approach for two reasons. “The first is the fiscal reason. If you use 10 years of offsets to pay for five years of spending, you’re not really paying for the bill,” Ritz said. “The second reason, and one that should be particularly important to progressives, is that if you set a program to expire, there is a risk that it actually does expire.”

Ritz and his colleagues at PPI recommend a roughly $2 trillion package that includes: support for working families ($975 billion), combating climate change ($600 billion) and strengthening the Affordable Care Act ($425 billion).

As part of the working families agenda, Ritz said that the Child Tax Credit should be made permanent and be fully paid for, even if that means changing some of the current (but temporary) eligibility criteria. “I would rather have a smaller, but permanent and fully refundable, Child Tax Credit so that low-income families get the full value of it,” he said.

One very expensive initiative that should be dropped from the reconciliation package, according to Ritz, is the expansion of Medicare to include dental, hearing, and eye care at no additional cost to beneficiaries. This “should not be a terribly high priority right now when tens of millions still don’t have affordable health care coverage,” Ritz concluded.

Despite divisions within the party, Ritz believes that Democrats will eventually find enough consensus to get a bill passed. “It would be catastrophic for Democrats if we don’t get something across the finish line, “ he observed.

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, NHTalkRadio.com (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on SpotifyPandoraiTunesGoogle PodcastsStitcher or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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