May 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's trillion-dollar spending challenge

Biden

Biden speaks Wednesday about Microsoft's plans for a data center in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Spending President Biden's trillion dollars on U.S. projects before November is turning out to be a nearly impossible task.

Why it matters: It's one thing to pass the biggest spending bills in American history. It's another to find, fund and start projects to spend it all — especially with former President Trump salivating at the chance to erase Biden's legacy.

Driving the news: A Politico review of Biden's four signature laws found that out of $1.1 trillion for direct investments in energy and infrastructure, less than 17% of the funds have been spent.

  • The Biden administration has announced or obligated $583 billion of the total funds, and private companies have pledged another $866 billion in planned investments spurred by the president's policies.
  • But there's no guarantee of when that money will start flowing — or when voters will start noticing the real-world impacts of Biden's historic spending spree.

By the numbers: Because of a lack of publicly available data, Politico relied on government announcements for funding that's been "awarded" and "tentatively awarded" — meaning the true amount spent is actually lower.

  • Inflation Reduction Act: Out of $145 billion allocated for direct spending, the Biden administration has announced roughly $60 billion in tentative funding decisions for the most ambitious climate law in U.S. history.
  • CHIPS and Science Act: Out of $54 billion allocated in this bipartisan China competition bill, about $30 billion has been awarded and tentatively awarded.
  • American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Out of a combined $884 billion meant to address infrastructure, climate or energy, only $125 billion has been spent. A further $454 billion has been announced for the infrastructure law, according to the White House.

Between the lines: $331 billion of the total $1.1 trillion can't be spent until future fiscal years.

  • "It may be in some areas that the money is going out slower or faster than expected, but there was never an expectation that this money was going to go out particularly fast," says Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
  • The IRA, the CHIPS Act and the infrastructure law "are multi-year tax and spending bills that you would therefore expect to to play out over multiple years," Goldwein stressed, comparing them to Trump's 2017 tax cuts.

Yes, but: That could leave the door open for Trump to eviscerate Biden's agenda by halting project approvals, repealing the laws with a Republican Congress, and potentially freezing funding altogether.

  • Trump has vowed in his second term to restore presidential "impoundment" authority to withhold congressionally appropriated funds, a controversial practice restricted by Congress in 1974.
  • A future Trump administration also could rewrite Treasury Department rules to sabotage the $551 billion in tax credits enacted under the IRA and the CHIPS Act.
A bar chart displaying results from a Morning Consult and Politico survey of 1,974 registered voters taken in April 2024. The chart shows voter opinions on which candidate deserves more credit for infrastructure improvement and job creation. Joe Biden leads with 40%, followed by Donald Trump at 37%. 12% of respondents believe both deserve equal credit, while another 12% are unsure.
Data: Morning Consult/Politico; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: The more urgent and alarming issue for Biden is that a significant percentage of voters aren't giving him credit for the benefits of the spending laws — if they even know the programs exist.

  • 40% of voters said Biden has done more than Trump to "promote infrastructure improvements and job creation," according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.
  • 37% gave the edge to Trump, whose widely-mocked "Infrastructure Week" initiatives became a symbol of policy pipe dreams derailed by personal scandals.

What they're saying: Biden, whose campaign stops often are tied to ribbon-cutting ceremonies, explicitly attacked Trump on infrastructure while unveiling a $3.3 billion Microsoft investment in Wisconsin on Wednesday.

  • "He promised a $10 billion investment by Foxconn," Biden said, referring to Trump's 2017 announcement of a manufacturing hub in Racine County that never materialized.
  • "He came ... with a golden shovel and didn't build a damn thing."
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