The Sanders “$6 Trillion Budget” – What Would It Look Like?

Last week, news reports circulated of a “$6 trillion” budget outline being produced by Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This week, we ran across a summary table of that budget blueprint – outdated, and not yet agreed to by any of the Budget Committee’s members. But the outline does show, conceptually, where Sanders’ priorities are, and Sanders is likely to push for a budget framework as close to this as he can get while still getting the votes of all ten of the other Democratic members of the Budget Committee.

Where the $6 trillion figure came from. In their summary table, the Sanders staff had rearranged every Biden Administration proposal shown in Summary Table S-6 of the President’s budget message – all of the tax proposals, and all of the proposals that would increase non-appropriated spending (the spending classified as “mandatory”). The American Jobs Plan, the American Families Plan, and all of the odds and ends. The gross deficit impact of every single one of those Biden proposals (before counting the tax increase “pay-fors”) added together, would be $4.45 trillion of deficit increases over 10 years. The Sanders draft budget would add an extra $1.55 trillion in spending or tax breaks on top of that – $500 billion for Medicare expansion, $343 billion for climate change, $331 billion for affordable housing, $126 billion for extra immigration expenses, $120 billion for partial restoration of the SALT deduction, etc. The total gross deficit impact of all of the mandatory spending and tax proposals would be a $6 trillion increase above baseline, over 10 years.

Then, while the Biden budget proposed $3.6 trillion in tax increase pay-fors over 10 years, the Sanders draft budget reduces that to $3.2 billion. As a results, federal deficits over the next decade would be $1.9 trillion higher under the Sanders draft plan than under the Biden budget.

Trillion Dollars
Biden Sanders
10-Yr. Baseline Deficits (OMB Calculation) 13.18 13.18
10-Yr. Deficit Increases from Mandatory Spending & Revenue Proposals (Gross) +4.45 +6.00
10-Yr. Deficit Decreases from Offsetting Revenue Increases -3.60 -3.22
10-Yr. Deficit Increases from Mandatory Spending & Revenue Proposals (Net) +0.85 +2.78
10-Yr. Deficits Under Mandatory Spending & Revenue Proposals 14.02 15.96

In theory, all of those revenue and mandatory spending changes could be achieved in one gigantic budget reconciliation bill, which would gross $6 trillion in deficit increases but would net $2.8 trillion in deficit increases over the coming decade, over baseline.

The Sanders budget and infrastructure. The draft Sanders budget also has some specific assumptions on infrastructure. In any budget resolution, the program-by-program assumptions that the chairman and the Budget Committee report say are in the budget are not actually in the text of the budget resolution, nor are those assumptions binding on committees in the House and Senate. Such policy assumptions are routinely ignored (particularly by the Appropriations Committees).

However, if the budget resolution orders the creation of a budget reconciliation bill, in the Senate, the budget resolution does have some ability to shape the highways vs transit divide, since in the Senate, those programs are overseen by different committees. Limiting the amount of the the reconciliation directive given to the Environment and Public Works Committee constrains how much highway spending could be increased in a reconciliation bill, and controlling the amount of the reconciliation directive given to the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee constrains how much mass transit spending could be increased in a reconciliation bill.

Given all that, the Sanders draft budget would make some changes from Biden Administration priorities. The Sanders budget assumes a $77 billion increase in electric vehicles funding. Spending on roads and bridges would be cut by $12 billion, with the savings diverted to increased funding for ports and waterways. Megaprojects would take a reduction from $41.6 billion (outlays) in the Biden request to $25 billion under the Sanders plan, with the savings diverted to increases in public transit and intercity rail.

Following are the outlay (cash out the door) totals over 10 years above baseline for the Biden budget requests for transportation infrastructure and under the draft Sanders budget plan.

Biden Sanders Change
Roads and Bridges 112.3 100 -12.3
Road Safety 19 20 +1
Public Transit 76.6 85 +8.4
Intercity Rail 73.6 80 +6.4
EVs 157.4 235 +77.6
Ports and waterways 14 25 +11
Airports 25 25 0
Reconnect Communities 24 25 +1
Transformational Projects 41.5 25 -16.5
Total, Transpo. Infra. 543.4 620 +76.6

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