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PolitiFact VA: Cline Skips Context with Green New Deal Claim

wind turbines in field
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) claimed last month the Green New Deal will cost the average American household about $75,000 each year. (Photo: Tom Fisk)

Speaker: Ben Cline
Statement: The Green New Deal “costs an average American household almost $700,000 through 2029.”
Setting: Floor speech
Date: April 22, 2021

U.S. Rep. Ben Cline recently put an eye-popping taxpayer price tag on the Green New Deal - a bold but vague climate change-centered plan that has been roundly condemned by Republicans.

“It crushes jobs, costs an average American household almost $700,000 through 2029,” Cline, R-Va., said of the proposal during a brief floor speech on April 22. 

Think about it. The average annual household income in 2019, the latest year available, was $68,700. The average household cost of the Green New Deal, according to Cline’s statement, would be about $75,000 a year. Cline is essentially saying every penny of earnings by an average household will be swallowed by the plan.

Cline, who represents Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, running from Roanoke through the Shenandoah Valley, is hardly the first Republican to make this $700,000 statement. It’s been a talking point for two years. Fortunately for taxpayers, the claim doesn’t hold up. Here’s why:

Green New Deal Basics

The Green New Deal is a resolution - that is, a non-binding proposal and not actual legislation. It has been introduced in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and is cosponsored by 101 Democrats. There’s a companion resolution in the Senate introduced by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and cosponsored by 12 Democrats. The measures have been referred to subcommittees.

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey introduced almost identical Green New Deal resolutions in 2019 that met heavy Republican opposition. One was killed in the Senate and the other never came up for a vote in the House.

Broadly speaking, the resolutions address ways to curb climate change and protect the environment. Their far-reaching goals include "eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible" and “meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” 

The Green New Deal reaches into other policy areas, as well. It calls for creation of “millions of high-wage union jobs,” investment in infrastructure, and “promoting social justice and equality.”

But the proposals have never laid out cost figures. And they have not received a cost estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — the gold-standard source on pricing proposed federal programs.

Source of the $700,000 figure

Cline’s office told us the congressman’s $700,000 tax figure comes from a 2019 report on the Green New Deal by the American Action Forum, which describes itself as a “ center-right” think tank. The forum is a sister organization of the American Action Network, a conservative, nonprofit advocacy organization.

The report doesn’t mention the $700,000 figure or a total for the estimated per-household cost. However, it does show estimated household costs for different parts of the Green New Deal from 2020-2029. Most of the cost estimates were expressed in ranges.

Cline said the Green New Deal  "costs an average American household almost $700,000 through 2029,” - which suggests a massive tax increase for every family. But the American Action Forum analysis doesn’t actually say that typical households will pay that cost in new taxes. 

If we add up the high-end range estimate in each category, it comes to $671,010 between 2020 and 2029. If we add up the low-end figure in each category, it comes to $369,010. To come up with estimates, the American Action Forum made a series of assumptions, such as that the Green New Deal would invest so heavily in high-speed rail transit “that air travel becomes unnecessary.” The actual text of the resolution does not call for grounding airplanes. 

The American Action Forum analysis also assumed the plan would include a Medicare for All proposal similar to one made by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and estimated it would cost average households $260,000 over 10 years. However, the texts of the green resolutions don’t mention Medicare for All -- instead, they more broadly call for “high quality health care” for everyone.

The American Action Forum put a number of caveats in its study that Cline and many other Republicans omit. It said, “The breadth of its proposals makes it daunting to assess the (Green New Deal) using the standard tools of policy analysis” and called its study an “initial foray.”

The researchers wrote that many of the goals in the plan would require policies that are “redundant with other aspects in it, which also complicates a precise analysis, as the interactions are difficult to predict.”

The report’s lead author is Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office. He has told PolitiFact he would need more details about the Green New Deal to conduct a more specific cost analysis.

Our ruling

Cline said the Green New Deal “costs an average American household almost $700,000 through 2029.”

The Green New Deal is a set of goals, not detailed policies attached to specific taxes. The $700,000 number comes from a brief that its author, the right-of-center American Action Forum, acknowledges is a preliminary and rough estimate. The analysis did not say an average household would pay an extra $700,000 in taxes. Instead, it estimated a range of possible costs under different scenarios over 10 years and Cline took the highest number. 

It’s possible the resolution will eventually lead to specific legislation that can be formally analyzed for potential costs, but at this point, the proposals are murky.

So, we rate Cline’s statement False. 

U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, floor speech, April 22, 2021.

Email from Matthew Hanrahan, Cline’s communications director, May 3, 2021.

U.S. Census Bureau, “ Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019.” accessed May 3, 2021.

Office of Management and Budget, Table 1.1 - “Summary of Receipts, Outlays, Surpluses or Deficits” for 2021, accessed April 30, 2021., H.Res. 109, S. Res. 59, 116th Congress., H.Res. 332S.Res. 166,  117th Congress

American Action Forum, “ The Green New Deal: Scope, Scale, and Implications,” Feb. 25, 2019.

American Action Forum, “ About,” accessed April 30, 2021.

PolitiFact, “ This GOP talking point that the Green New Deal will cost every household $600,000 is False” Sept. 27, 2019.

PolitiFact, “ Ernst uses flabby $93 trillion estimate for Green New Deal,” March 12, 2019.

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