“We are a really big economy where really big forces are shaping what happens to G.D.P. growth,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and a former C.B.O. chief economist.
Even these moderate projections by the Biden administration imply that its policies will lift growth in economic activity by a few tenths of a percent each year over a decade. This is significant when comparing it with the growth that would be expected by simply looking at demographic factors and historical averages of productivity growth. The forecast is more inherently optimistic about Mr. Biden’s policies — and their potential to increase productivity and the size of the work force — than it might seem at first glance.
Biden’s 2022 Budget
- A new year, a new budget: The 2022 fiscal year for the federal government begins on October 1, and President Biden has revealed what he’d like to spend, starting then. But any spending requires approval from both chambers of Congress.
- Ambitious total spending: President Biden would like the federal government to spend $6 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, and for total spending to rise to $8.2 trillion by 2031. That would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II, while running deficits above $1.3 trillion through the next decade.
- Infrastructure plan: The budget outlines the president’s desired first year of investment in his American Jobs Plan, which seeks to fund improvements to roads, bridges, public transit and more with a total of $2.3 billion over eight years.
- Families plan: The budget also addresses the other major spending proposal Biden has already rolled out, his American Families Plan, aimed at bolstering the United States’ social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost of child care and supporting women in the work force.
- Mandatory programs: As usual, mandatory spending on programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare make up a significant portion of the proposed budget. They are growing as America’s population ages.
- Discretionary spending: Funding for the individual budgets of the agencies and programs under the executive branch would reach around $1.5 trillion in 2022, a 16 percent increase from the previous budget.
- How Biden would pay for it: The president would largely fund his agenda by raising taxes on corporations and high earners, which would begin to shrink budget deficits in the 2030s. Administration officials have said tax increases would fully offset the jobs and families plans over the course of 15 years, which the budget request backs up. In the meantime, the budget deficit would remain above $1.3 trillion each year.
“Making the claim that your fiscal policies will boost growth by four-tenths of a point seems optimistic, but I can see how they could get there,” she said.
Jason Furman, the Obama administration’s former top economist, said: “I think there’s a problem that people have in their head — more extravagant ideas about what economic policy can do and how quickly it can do it. When you’re talking about productivity enhancement, you’re talking about compounding that becomes a big deal for a long time.”
In other words, the difference of a few tenths of a percent of G.D.P. growth might not mean much for a single year, but a gap of that size that persists for many years has a big impact on living standards.
Some of the administration’s policies, by design, would focus on the very long-term impact on the nation’s economic potential. For example, additional money for community colleges might actually depress the size of the labor force, and thus G.D.P., in the short run if more adults go back to school. But it would then increase those workers’ productive potential, and thus contribution to growth, for the decades that follow.
Conservatives, for their part, view the Biden agenda as likely to restrain growth, particularly once tax increases and new regulatory action go into effect. Mr. Mulligan, the Trump adviser, said he believed the Biden agenda would reduce the nation’s growth path by around 0.8 percentage points a year compared with its Trump-era trajectory. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, said he thought Mr. Biden’s policies could create faster growth in the short term but slower growth in the long run because of taxes and spending.