Centrist Democrats Support Deficit Spending, A Good Thing for a Potential Biden Climate Agenda

Image: New Dem Coalition

At the start of 2019, Chairman of House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth, said he and other senior Democrats aimed to write a fiscal blueprint that would cut annual budget deficits by 50% in the next 10 years. We even heard deficit reduction discussed at length in the Democratic primary debates this past winter.

For centrist Democrats especially, balanced budgets have been a priority issue in their districts and one they’ve championed on Capitol Hill, often in stark opposition to the more progressive wing of their party. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it evident that the federal government will have to invest in our society and economy to see us through this crisis, including spending on climate action.

In fact, leaders of the centrist New Democrat coalition came out this week in support of deficit spending during the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., the group’s vice chair for member services, stated: “Now is not the time to turn off the faucet.”

Why This Matters: More moderate Democrats hold immense sway within their party. In fact, when Democrats regained the House of Representatives in 2018 it was due to moderates flipping Republican districts. Having the buy-in of these members means that if Joe Biden wins the presidency, his green jobs agenda can commence with a running start in Congress, especially if Democrats are able to clinch both the House and the Senate.

A Biden presidency would inherent a crippled economy as well as growing support for climate action meaning that spending on green jobs and infrastructure could have the support it needs to get funded by the entirety of the Democratic party.

The Necessary Debt: Government spending will be needed in order to put Americans back to work and ensure that states, cities, and businesses are able to withstand the economic downturn. As the New York Times Upshot explained,

The very large deficits on the way in 2020 are more likely to leave the United States in a better fiscal situation for the years ahead than an alternative in which the government is more tightfisted but fails to prevent the widespread collapse of American businesses or help workers in desperate financial straits.

That spending might as well be used to invest in the future of the nation and many of the goals outlined in Joe Biden’s climate plan such as job creation through grid modernization and the buildout of nationwide EV charging infrastructure. One of the biggest detractions to a climate spending plan like Biden’s is that it’s too costly and will raise the national debt. However, data indicates that the cost of inaction on climate change is far costlier than targeted government spending for a green economy.

In our recent web series with Third Way, we asked Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy whether she is in favor of deficit spending during the crisis to help spur business and deliver people the benefits they need and she stated this time necessitates the expenditure from the government. Check out her remarks in the video below:

Adding In Efficiency: Increasing our investment in a clean energy future is crucial for climate action but we should also know how we’re spending this money and ensure that all federal agencies have a similar way to account for spending. As Five Thirty Eight wrote last February, the GAO found that even basic climate data like satellite observations and climate model predictions are fragmented across federal agencies in ways that make it difficult to share information with everyone who might need it.

  • In 2017, the GAO published a report focused on financial accounting that detailed just how muddled the government’s data on climate change spending can be — and how that means Americans (citizens and politicians alike) are woefully ignorant of what the government is and isn’t doing to reduce the risks.

Though centrist Democrats haven’t announced what conditions they would like to see placed on deficit spending, modernizing how climate spending is accounted for on the federal level could certainly be a stipulation to look out for.

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