For months, President Joe Biden has touted a key claim about the $2.4 trillion Build Back Better Act — a letter from 17 Nobel laureates in economics saying it will ease long-term inflationary pressure. But that claim is getting plenty of pushback as inflation hit a 39-year high in November and Republicans scoff at the idea of more government spending.

"Inflation and #BuildBackBetter are twin daggers aimed at the heart of the American economy," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted last Friday, leaving little doubt about his thoughts on the bill. He added during a Sunday appearance on Fox News, “This bill, Build Back Better, will be gasoline on the inflation problem.”


The bill includes programs such as subsidized child care, universal preschool, an extended child tax credit, and tax breaks for the purchase of electric vehicles. But despite Biden's claims that the bill would cost "zero dollars" and even that it'll pay for Republican tax cuts, the initial Congressional Budget Office score concluded it would add $367 billion to the deficit over the next decade. An alternate score that doesn’t assume the social programs will sunset projected it would add $3 trillion.

A more recent pro-BBB letter, this one signed by 56 economists, argues only that the Build Back Better bill can "alleviate some of the strain caused by inflation" by subsidizing costs without claiming it will ease inflation directly. Citing this appeal, Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say it's even more urgent to pass the bill in order to provide relief to working families.

So, will the bill raise inflation or lower it? It's a bit of a false dilemma, argued Center for American Progress senior fellow David Madland.

"Most of the inflation is being caused by the virus and the disruptions to supply chains it has caused," Madland said. "This bill is not directly about that. But inflation is high, and Republicans want to critique the president, so they will say that anything he does will cause inflation."

The bill can help keep inflation low in the long term by creating a more productive economy via increased labor force participation and more efficient energy production, he added.

"You can make more goods and services with less inputs," said Madland.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum, agrees the bill won't have an immediate impact on inflation, if only because the programs it creates sunset after just a few years.

"If these programs go away, you get no lasting impact whatsoever," he said. "[The proposal] cuts off these programs to save budget money, but that also means you get no economic impact from them. You can't have it both ways. They're either permanent or they're not."

Holtz-Eakin said he expects only about $150 billion of the bill's funding to be spent in the first year, a small amount compared to the $1.9 trillion in the American Rescue Plan, but he said the impact on the whole will be in favor of higher inflation.

"It won't have a comparable impact. It just won't help," he said. "On balance, the critics are right. This is something that will be bad for inflation."

A final point the American Action Forum leader makes is that if taxes are raised high enough to offset Build Back Better's programs for a full 10 years, the economy would "be dead in the water" as a result of the strain on businesses.

Biden is meeting this week with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a notable Democratic holdout who has expressed concerns about the bill's price tag and impact on inflation, to try and get the bill to the White House for a signature.


Some Democrats are pushing to get the bill passed before Christmas, though that may be a long shot as the year winds to a close. Either way, the Build Back Better plan is expected to be a major issue in the 2022 midterm elections, especially if inflation hasn't been wrestled down from its historic highs by next fall.