Plus, a question about Big Tech bias.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.
Today’s read: 11 minutes.
We’re diving into Joe Biden’s budget proposal. Plus, a question about anti-conservative bias in tech.
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- Democrat Melanie Stansbury secured a resounding win in New Mexico’s special election to replace Biden’s new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as state representative. Her margin of victory is an encouraging sign for Democrats who worry about losing their congressional majority in the midterms. (CNN)
- President Joe Biden visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, to mark the 100-year anniversary of the race massacre there, assuring survivors and their families the story of what happened “will be known in full view.” (The New York Times, subscription)
- Florida became the eighth state this year to block trans student-athletes from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity. (Axios)
- JBS SA, the world’s largest meat producer, has made “significant progress” to resolve the cyberattack that knocked out five of its largest plants yesterday. (Bloomberg, subscription)
- The U.S. economic recovery is unlike any in recent history, with booming savings, new companies popping up, and businesses eager to hire, but supply and worker shortages driving up inflation and disrupting growth. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
What D.C. is talking about.
Biden’s budget. On Friday, the White House sent Congress a $6 trillion budget plan that largely focuses its spending on infrastructure, education, and fighting climate change. A White House budget proposal is considered the “fiscal blueprint” for an administration’s policy priorities — but it’s not binding, and usually does not survive Congressional re-working intact. However, it is the White House’s way of telling Congress what it plans to propose and accomplish over the next few years.
Typically, a White House budget proposal is one of the most significant documents an administration can put together. It lays out how an administration says it will pay for its proposals and clarifies how it envisions the U.S. government’s revenue and spending, as well as the budget’s impact on the economy.
This year, Biden’s budget plan also has other significance: Democrats need to agree on the budget in order to use a process called “budget reconciliation” to pass legislation. Because of this quirk in Congressional rules, if Democrats can agree to a budget, they can also pass legislation without Republican support so long as it’s tied directly to the budget. Budget reconciliation is the same process Republicans used in 2017 to pass Trump’s overhaul of the tax code without Democratic support. This time, Democrats want to use it to address infrastructure, education and child care proposals.
The $6 trillion budget proposal released Friday essentially restates some of the policy initiatives Biden has already released: the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.9 trillion American family plan, as well as tax breaks for families, four extra years of free education to all Americans (universal pre-k and two years of community college), extending the new child tax credit, and $400 billion to caregivers.
Some numbers: The plan says spending will increase to $8.2 trillion by 2031, with annual deficits (when spending exceeds revenue year over year) being above $1.3 trillion every year until then. By increasing taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 and increasing the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, Biden expects to double tax revenue from $3.4 trillion in 2021 to $6.6 trillion in 2031.
Other tidbits: Biden’s proposal calls on Congress to lower the eligibility for Medicare to 60, but doesn’t put a price tag on the cost for that expansion. Biden proposed a Pentagon budget of $715 billion, up from this year’s $704 billion but lower than Trump’s final proposal of $722 billion. The budget does not include a renewal of the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions. It does include “tens of billions of dollars” of spending on programs intended to address racial equity, including increased funding for historically Black and minority-serving colleges and universities.
Reactions: Democrats are mostly happy with the budget. There was some griping about certain health care and student debt forgiveness proposals being left out and some criticism of so much military spending. But the reactions on the left have been mostly positive. Republicans, on the other hand, have expressed deep concern, saying the proposal is irresponsible, reckless, and historically unprecedented. Some also criticized the military budget for not having more spending.
Below, we’ll take a look at some arguments about the budget.
What the right is saying.
The right says the proposal is misleading and dangerous, and could usher in years of economic stagnation.
In The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen called Biden’s proposal “a lie.”
“A centerpiece of Biden’s campaign — his plan to create a ‘public option’ for health care and lower the age at which Americans can receive Medicare — is nowhere to be found in this budget,” Thiessen said. “According to Manhattan Institute budget expert Brian Riedl, Biden’s missing health proposals will cost $1.45 trillion. That’s a huge omission. So, I asked Riedl what else is missing from Biden’s budget? A lot, it turns out. He points out that Biden also did not include a host of other spending plans he proposed during the 2020 campaign — such as his plan to expand Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as well as much of the K-12 spending and higher education spending that he promised.
“In addition, Biden’s budget assumes that items he did include — such as the child tax credit expansion in his American Family Plan and long-term care for seniors — will expire before Biden’s 10-year budget window closes, when, in fact, the president has no intention of allowing those programs to expire… when you add up the costs of all the missing items — plus the hundreds of billions in interest costs from these new initiatives — it comes to a whopping $5.8 trillion in additional spending,” Thiessen wrote. “And there is something that Biden’s budget does include which he did not propose on the campaign trail — a lower- and middle-income tax increase… The White House budget assumes that Biden will allow the Trump tax cuts for low- and middle-income Americans to expire as scheduled in 2025. Letting tax cuts expire is a tax increase.”
The Wall Street Journal called it a “historic and permanent” expansion of government that is focusing on the wrong things.
“Most executive agencies would get huge budget increases, including Health and Human Services (23.1%), Commerce (27.7%), and the Environmental Protection Agency (21.3%),” they wrote. “Apparently, the administrative state will need more money for the vast regulatory buildup the President has ordered. On the other hand, Defense (1.6%) and Homeland Security (0.2%) budgets would decline after inflation. China is a generational challenge. Iran is arming its proxies across the Middle East. Migrants are flooding the Southern border. Yet Mr. Biden believes the military and border security need to go on a diet… his tax increases would reverse the 2017 tax reform that increased business investment and lifted wages across the income spectrum, especially lower earners. The taxes would also whack the supply side of the economy just when we need more investment to meet the post-pandemic explosion of demand on everything from warehouses to semiconductors.”
John Fund said Biden was “gambling with the economy.”
“Joe Biden finally released his proposed federal budget Friday, just before the Memorial Day holiday. It’s almost as if the White House didn’t want people to look at it too closely,” Fund said. “The publicly held debt would skyrocket from 98 percent of GDP in 2020 to 130 percent by 2031, eclipsing the debt level of 114 percent held by the U.S. just after it fought World War II…
“The eye-popping numbers in Biden’s budget are finally leading even some liberals to express worries,” Fund said. “Mike Allen of Axios reports that ‘some Democrats and economists have begun to worry that President Biden, intent on FDR-like transformation of a wounded America, is doing too much, too fast.’ Larry Summers, the treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and the head of the National Economic Council under Obama, told Bloomberg News back in March that he thought Biden was pursuing ‘the least responsible macroeconomic policy we’ve had in the last 40 years…’ Summers has some agreement from other liberal economists. Jason Furman, the chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told Politico last week that Summers is merely saying ‘what everyone is saying over coffee and whispering.’”
What the left is saying.
The left mostly supports the budget proposal, though some progressives think President Biden is reneging on his promises.
In The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell said Biden gets credit for “honesty” about his proposal.
“I’ve previously offered a rule of thumb for evaluating politicians’ economic proposals: The more economic growth a politician promises, the worse their policies probably are,” Rampbell said. “That’s because predicting turbocharged growth suggests they need turbocharged growth to get their budget numbers to add up. Faster economic growth, after all, means people and businesses earn more income and so remit more tax revenue; it also means less government spending on means-tested programs such as food stamps.
“Given that the White House put out its budget just before a holiday weekend, Biden clearly wasn’t hoping for much media scrutiny,” she said. “There was, however, another detail that some media outlets and Republicans seized on: his relatively modest economic growth assumptions. The administration projected strong growth this year and next — 5.2 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively — as the economy bounces back from the pandemic recession. But over the rest of the decade, it estimated, the economy will grow only about 1.8 to 2.2 percent each year. That’s roughly in line with forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve. At best it’s a few tenths of a percentage point higher, which is an optimistic but still reasonable estimate for how much a president’s agenda might affect growth trends. To Republicans, this judicious forecast — this failure to grossly exaggerate or lie — is somehow damning.”
In The New York Times, Paul Krugman gave Biden credit for his “radical modesty.”
“President Biden, scream some of the headlines, wants to spend SIX TRILLION DOLLARS next year. (Sorry, can’t help doing my best Dr. Evil imitation.) It takes some digging to learn that the baseline — the amount the administration estimates we’d spend next fiscal year without new policies — is $5.7 trillion,” he wrote. “Now, the Biden plan is by no means trivial. The budget proposes spending 24.5 percent of G.D.P. over the next decade, up from a baseline of 22.7 percent. That increase, mainly driven by increased expenditures for infrastructure and families, is bigger than it looks because so much of the baseline is devoted to the military, Medicare and Social Security. But it’s not socialism, either. It would still leave the United States with a smaller government than most other wealthy countries’.
“Notably, however, the administration is not claiming that these policies would dramatically accelerate economic growth,” Krugman said. “The administration’s economists are actually quite optimistic, for example, about the possibility that child care and other family policies would expand labor force participation and that investing in children would yield big economic returns in the long run. But they also know history. Governments can do a lot to fight short-term recessions (or make them worse), but the fact is that it’s very hard for policy to make a big difference to the economy’s long-term growth rate.”
Just before the budget was officially released, Luke Savage criticized the Biden administration’s liberalism, saying the reality of his presidency is starting to set in.
“The next Biden budget proposal (expected later this week) will jettison key campaign commitments: most notably its pledge to overhaul health care policy by enacting a public option, arguably the centerpiece of its domestic agenda during last year’s Democratic primaries,” he wrote. “Also on the chopping block this week are promised measures to lower prescription drug costs, raise the estate tax, and relieve student debt (an issue on which the new Biden has quite audibly begun to sound like the old one).
“In the most charitable interpretation imaginable, the administration is simply punting these items to a later date on its legislative calendar: measures like the public option being set to return once the more rudimentary business of infrastructure dealmaking has been concluded,” he wrote. “It’s for this reason that the language currently emerging from the White House is potentially so revealing, its increasingly conservative lawmaking strategy beginning to look a lot more like garden variety liberal triangulation than canny maneuvering. According to the Post, plans for a more ambitious legislative program have been shelved amid concerns that it ‘could fuel criticisms that the administration is pushing new spending programs too aggressively.’”
Thiessen’s argument resonated most for me: the budget just doesn’t look particularly honest.
It’s not a huge deal, or particularly novel, because a White House budget is often an exercise in misleading voters. It’s essentially a piece of campaign literature. Rampell rightly points out that Trump had fantastical predictions for growth to cover his spending and tax cuts. Biden, on the other hand, appears to either be abandoning or wholly leaving out huge parts of his agenda. So on top of running up trillion-dollar-plus deficits every year, he’s also not accounting for some of his biggest campaign promises in his spending plan.
On top of all that, allowing the Trump administration’s tax cuts to expire is essentially a tax increase (one that would hit me personally, as well as 65 percent of Americans who saw their taxes go down). Though — again, in a semi-deceptive manner — those cuts expire in 2025, when Biden could potentially be out of office. And the fact they expire at all could just as easily be blamed on the Trump administration.
Which is part of what makes analyzing this so tricky. On the one hand, I’ve written supportively about key Biden proposals like the child tax credit and his infrastructure plan. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this budget, since there is no significant news — we basically knew what to expect. The Biden government is prioritizing infrastructure, education, child care and climate change remediation.
On the other hand, the omissions were huge: He made no policy prescription on a plan to lower the Medicare age. He did not lay out how the administration would reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The plan also had no insight into how he would overhaul and upgrade the unemployment insurance system, which he’s pledged to do. And after not addressing student loan forgiveness in his COVID-relief plan, he left it out of his $6 trillion budget plan entirely, which is why progressive columnist Eric Levitz is asking whether Biden has abandoned addressing student debt altogether.
From a critical progressive perspective, these omissions are a slap in the face: health care was the number one campaign issue, and Biden’s first budget proposal does nothing to advance his promises. On top of that, student loan debt is an issue progressives have been waiting on — and to see it left out, while the military gets an increase in spending, is a good way to rattle the faith of most liberals.
From a critical conservative perspective, the omissions are deceptive. It’s clear Biden is going to address these proposals at some point, and it’s clear his budget proposal is obscuring huge chunks of spending that will make the outcome far less pretty than he’s letting on.
From the Biden administration’s perspective, the omissions are part of the plan. Biden has said the budget reflects the policies he wants Congress to enact this year, and future initiatives are coming. For conservatives, that proves their point: more spending is on the way. For progressives, with midterm elections that could flip Congress around the corner, there are limited opportunities to advance those priorities — and that plan is probably not comforting.
Your questions, answered.
Q: How much of "tech bias" do you think is really just glitches or incompetence?
—James, Houston, Texas
Tangle: One of my favorite expressions is “the plural of anecdote is not data.” As someone who generally feels that tech companies and social media companies are populated with liberal-minded employees, I’m often sympathetic to and believe in the overall bias against conservative thought. But Matthew Feeney from the Cato Institute has done some of the most thought-provoking writing on this, founded in deep research and reporting, and he has successfully moved my views on this issue in a big way.
Feeney’s arguments can’t be summarized aptly here, but they cover a few things: 1) There are hundreds of millions of tweets a day, 400 hours of YouTube content uploaded every hour, and tens of thousands of Google searches a second. Anyone can find persecution if they’re looking for it. 2) James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who has secretly recorded several Big Tech employees admitting to censoring conservatives, has often misled his viewers. 3) Progressive activists make exactly the same claims conservatives do, just not as loudly. For instance, you probably don’t know that the Chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site accused Google of restricting public access “to socialist, anti‐war and left‐wing websites.” Leaders of all sorts of left-wing activist groups have made similar claims.
I am 100 percent certain that many Big Tech companies largely employ liberals. I’m also sure that some conservative voices have been unjustly removed, de-platformed, or throttled in search results. But on the whole, I’m hesitant to claim any “bias against conservatives” when those platforms are so clearly beneficial to the conservative movement, and also when they are so big and so widely used that it’s easy for many people to frame themselves as victims. In short: it’s complicated, and I prefer not to broad-brush the situation. This piece of Feeney’s is a good summary of his work on the topic.
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A story that matters.
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U.S. regulators have just approved Amgen’s Lumakras, a drug developed to treat one of the most common mutations found in lung cancers. Once called the “Achilles heel” of lung cancer tumor treatment, the FDA-approved protocol is upending what doctors once considered an undruggable target. It’s one of the most significant breakthroughs in cancer research in recent memory. “KRAS has challenged cancer researchers for more than 40 years, with many deeming it as 'undruggable.' The Lumakras development program was a race against cancer for Amgen's scientists and clinical trial investigators who together have now successfully delivered this new medicine to patients in less than three years—from the first patient dosed to U.S. regulatory approval,” David Reese, the vice president of the Amgen Lumakras research, said. (BioSpace)