Sinclair Broadcast Group anchor Jan Jeffcoat falsely claimed the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate on August 10 would add $400 trillion to the national debt, citing an estimate from the conservative National Taxpayers Union. However, the NTU estimated that the legislation would add $400 billion to the national debt -- 1,000 times lower than what Jeffcoat said on her nationally televised Sinclair show, yet still much higher than the estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The Senate bill, known as H.R. 3684 or the INVEST in America Act, passed on August 10 on a bipartisan basis with 69 votes in favor. According to the Democratic-led House Transportation Committee, the bill “is comprehensive legislation that would modernize our roads, bridges, transit, rail, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, and so much more.” It includes “$550 billion in new spending over five years” and, according to the CBO, “would add $256 billion to projected deficits” over the next decade.
But instead of trusting the expertise of the CBO’s analysts, Sinclair’s National Desk anchor turned to a conservative organization for its analysis of the legislation’s effect on the deficit. While introducing her guest, NTU Vice President Brandon Arnold, Jeffcoat astonishingly claimed the organization “said they found it would actually add $400 trillion to the national debt.” This wasn’t a misstatement on her part -- she repeated the figure after exchanging pleasantries with Arnold, saying, “that’s a big number, $400 trillion.” Arnold never responded to that figure, so it wasn’t actually discussed during the interview.
Reached for comment about the Sinclair anchor’s claims of the organization’s analysis, an NTU spokesperson responded (emphasis added):
The calculations of the National Taxpayers Union are that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill would add a $400 billion deficit to the ten-year budget window, a calculation from our analysis of the gimmicky pay-fors in the legislation found here: https://www.ntu.org/publications/detail/gimmicky-pay-fors-in-bipartisan-infrastructure-bill-are-problematic-for-taxpayers
It appears that Sinclair mis-cited the NTU’s analysis by a factor of 1,000.
However, this false figure wasn’t just aired twice during a live interview on Sinclair’s morning news program (which airs on 68 Sinclair-owned or -operated TV stations across the country):
- It was also included in a Twitter post from the show’s account: “Could the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package end up adding $400 trillion to the national debt?”
- National Desk digital producer Elissa Salamy included the wildly inflated figure in an article she wrote based on the interview, under the headline: “Infrastructure bill would add $400T to national debt, says National Taxpayers Union.” This article was published on many Sinclair stations’ websites.
- At least two Sinclair stations, KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and WRSP in Springfield, Illinois, also included this false claim in their Facebook and Twitter posts promoting the article.
This is not Sinclair’s first time spreading misinformation about President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposals. Earlier this spring, Sinclair relied on other conservative organizations pushing pro-corporate and pro-austerity agendas for misleading commentary on plans to raise revenue for the spending. About a month later, Sinclair also aired unsupported claims that Biden’s infrastructure proposals would lead to lower wages and fewer jobs, when credible financial analysis firms were arguing that both would improve.