President Trump said the Green New Deal will cost $100 trillion.
But the Democratic authors of the sweeping climate change effort that also includes significant changes to the social safety net didn't estimate how much such an effort would cost American taxpayers.
In fact, the president's $100 trillion figures seems to have originated from one conservative's back-of-the-envelope calculations on Twitter.
Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who is formerly an economist for the Senate Finance Committee and an adviser to Mitt Romney’s and Marco Rubio’s presidential campaigns, said he has not been in contact with the White House about the math that gave rise to the exorbitant price tag.
“Maybe my tweet had more influence than I thought,” he said in a telephone interview.
But Trump's adoption of the $100 trillion figure -- as well as estimates cited by other Republican policymakers -- shows the speed by which information has ricocheted around the conservative blogosphere as opponents have made the Green New Deal a persistent punching bag in their rhetoric before any substantial policy discussions have occurred in Congress.
"They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work, spend $100 trillion, which, by the way, there's no such thing as $100 trillion," Trump told rally-goers in El Paso, Tex. "You have to spend $100 trillion."
Apparently pleased with that line, Trump repeated the 15-digit figure during his keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland when attacking Democrats' "new $100 trillion Green New Deal."
According to conservatives, sometimes the total cost of the Green New Deal introduced last month by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be $93 trillion. Other times it is as high as $100 trillion, as Trump estimated last month.
Shortly after the plan's release, Riedl estimated the plan's cost could run north of $100 trillion. And an official analysis from the American Action Forum implied to some conservatives a total cost of $93 trillion. In response, Democrats have dismissed those tallies as “misinformation” funded by fossil-fuel interests, including the Kochs.
Guaranteeing everyone a job could cost anywhere from $6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion, the report said. A net-zero emissions transportation system would run from $1.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.
The report itself doesn't mention the number $93 trillion. But when the top of all the ranges of the report's six different categories are added together, that is the sum.
With that, some Republicans suddenly had a figure to cite.
"At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), for example, said last month on the Senate floor.
Yet in the report itself, the authors concede is just "an initial foray" at estimating the actual cost of the Green New Deal. And doing that addition on the top ends of the ranges of the different categories "doesn't convey the uncertainty," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
“It took on a life of its own,” he said in an interview.
But what the think-tank report does do, Holtz-Eakin said, is express what he sees as the staggering order of magnitude of the cost of implementing the Democratic climate plan.
"Is it tens of millions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars or tens of trillions of dollars?" he said. "Clearly it's the latter."
On Feb. 8, before the American Action Forum report came out, Riedl tried tabulating the cost of the deal in a series of Twitter messages.
He conceded he had “No idea” how to determine the cost of some items, such as replacing gasoline-powered vehicles or making buildings more energy-efficient nationwide. But Riedl said the total “must be heading towards $100 trillion.”
How do we cost— Brian Riedl (@Brian_Riedl) February 8, 2019
-Replacing 250M gas vehicles? ($7T?)
-Killing most of 200k aircraft?
-Replacing military jets?
-High speed rail everywhere?
-Upgrade/replace 120M buildings?
-All the R&D? Installing renewables everywhere?
No idea…but must be heading towards $100 trillion. (2/
From there, that figure ricocheted around right-wing blogs like Townhall until Trump mentioned it in his Feb. 11 speech in Texas.
But Dave Anderson, a policy and communications manager at the pro-renewables Energy and Policy Institute who has tracked the spread of that $100 trillion figure, said “we know that President Trump and his staff regularly watch the conservative media scene.”
Riedl added that while his impromptu analysis is hardly "a rock-solid score," it is still "a fair ballpark estimate."
"Heading towards $100 trillion allows for a pretty broad range of figures," he added.
Markey has criticized the numbers as "misinformation” meant to stymie climate-related legislation.
“If the Republicans want to, they should set up a debate,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said earlier this month on the Senate floor. “And we can have it out here on whether or not the planet is dangerously warming, whether or not human activity is principally responsible and whether or not this body should take action.”
“That is what we should be debating out here this afternoon,” he continued. “Not a whole group of bogus facts produced by the Koch brothers, paid for by the Koch brothers, that are being repeated over and over again.”
The American Action Network, a sister organization of the American Action Forum that has funded it in the past, does not disclose its donors. But ProPublica has identified it has part of "a tangle of nonprofits" supported by the brothers "all aimed at advancing conservative causes."
The most costly supposed Green New Deal measure, according to both Riedl and American Action Forum, is providing single-payer health care.
But as a review of the American Action Forum report from Markey’s office points out, his resolution does not specifically call for that. Its promise is more vague -- to provide everyone with “high-quality health care.”
What’s more, the American Action Forum analysis imagines the deal will seek to replace all commercial air travel with high-speed rail, which is again something not mentioned in the text of the resolution.
Holtz-Eakin argues that to get to zero emissions in the transportation sector, the nation would indeed need to “ground the planes.”
Another, perhaps more important point of contention from Markey: These are cost analyses, not cost-benefit analyses that take into account the jobs created or the health costs avoided by reducing fossil-fuel emissions.
Correction: This story originally stated that $100 trillion is a 12-digit figure. It is a 15-digit figure.
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