Biden Confidant Downplays Campaign’s ‘Build Back Better’ Spending Promises

US Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks during a campaign event at the William "Hicks" Anderson Community Center in Wilmington, Delaware on July 28, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The chair of Joe Biden’s transition team is lowering expectations about the spending proposals the former vice president has pledged to implement if elected this November.

Former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE), a longtime Biden confidant who now chairs the nominee’s presidential transition task force, told The Wall Street Journal there was little viability for a large increase in federal spending in the near future. Kaufman, in particular, argued that President Donald Trump’s wide-sweeping tax cut in 2017 had created the need for constrained spending, even before the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” Kaufman said on Thursday. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit … forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”

Kaufman’s remarks, however, stand in contrast to the spending proposals Biden, himself, has made in recent months. As the coronavirus has ravaged the United States and caused the economy to crater, the former vice president has begun emphasizing a broader economic and social agenda to “transform” the country. Biden’s program, known simply as “Build Back Better,” has its foundation in an international disaster relief program designed by the United Nations. It is not only ambitious, setting its goal as the building of a new, progressive, and more globally connected economy, but also pricey.

For instance, as part of “Build Back Better,” Biden is championing a “Buy American” proposal that his campaign claims will create five million domestic manufacturing jobs. The proposal is anchored around a $400 billion federal procurement program, along with a $300 billion investment in U.S.-based research and development.

Similarly, the former vice president has proposed an ambitious and costly plan to protect the environment. Biden’s plan, heavily influenced by the recommendations of a unity task force set up earlier this year by the presumptive nominee and his vanquished primary rival, Bernie Sanders, suggests spending $2 trillion over four years to combat climate change.

A major portion of the money will be used to create one million new jobs in the auto industry by boosting the production of energy-efficient vehicles. In order to achieve the goal, Biden is backing legislation, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to incentivize individuals to trade in their gas-powered vehicles for ones running on either electricity or hydrogen.

Given the price tag associated with “Build Back Better,” Kaufman’s comments on Thursday surprised progressives, many of whom have struggled to warm up to the former vice president.

“This is extremely concerning. The pantry is absolutely not bare,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in response. “We need massive investment in our country or it will fall apart. This is not a joke. To adopt GOP deficit-hawking now, when millions of lives are at stake, is utterly irresponsible.”

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