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A pretty penny: Cost of Biden infrastructure plan may not matter

President Joe Biden unveiled his $2 trillion infrastructure plan Wednesday in Pittsburgh [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

A pretty penny: Cost of Biden infrastructure plan may not matter

US President Joe Biden has unveiled another significant spending proposal and there is the predictable blowback from Republicans on how it will be paid for.

Biden announced on Wednesday that his $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan, if passed as proposed, will be offset by increased corporate taxes. Republicans, fans of lower taxes, have lashed out at that and on the potential the plan has to add to the country’s national debt, which stands at $28 trillion and counting.

When asked on Wednesday if he would consider supporting the proposal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in Kentucky, “If it’s going to have massive tax increases and trillions more added to the national debt, it’s not likely.”

The problem for McConnell and his fellow Republicans is that, unlike other periods in recent history, Americans’ current reaction to the national debt part of his argument is a collective yawn.

 

It was not long ago that Americans were extremely concerned about the national debt.

Bashing reckless government spending is a political staple, but it is usually only in times of economic downturn when Americans demand their elected officials address the federal debt, which has been consistently growing for the past century.

In 1992, during a recession, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot made the national debt the keystone of his campaign, forcing both President George HW Bush and then-Democratic candidate Bill Clinton to address the issue.

After Perot pulled in 19 percent of the vote, the debt was cemented as a priority and Clinton, by his second term in office, wound up balancing the federal budget, even though he did not reduce the overall national debt.

Barack Obama, just before taking office during the Great Recession in 2009, told The Washington Post that he would hold a “fiscal responsibility summit” after he was sworn in to help figure out how to rein in government spending on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

And when Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, he promised to eliminate the then-$19 trillion debt “over a period of eight years”.

Trump was undoubtedly speaking to his Republican base, which at the time still included many followers of the Tea Party movement and its strict anti-national debt philosophy. That movement sprouted during Obama’s first year in office and successfully removed many Democrats from Congress by railing against government spending.

Yet, despite all of that, the national debt skyrocketed under both of those presidents, growing $9 trillion under Obama and an additional $8 trillion under Trump.
Debt worries decrease among Americans

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Over that time, the Tea Party’s influence waned and Americans’ concerns over the national debt have dropped, despite some conservatives’ and economists’ worries about the long-term implications of a deeply indebted United States government.

 

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