Biden Unveils $1.52 Trillion Budget Proposal

April 9, 2021 by Dan McCue
The White House. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.5 trillion budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year, that among other things, includes a 16% increase in non-defense spending.

In his first budget proposal as president, Biden is asking Congress for $753 billion for the Defense Department and national defense programs to “counter” the threat from China, which the administration calls the nation’s “top challenge.”

The total represents about a 2% increase over last year’s spending in the areas.

The president is also asking for $769 billion for non-defense spending, money that funds government departments like Education, Justice, Health and Human Services and Transportation.

The ask is about $105.7 billion higher than the current level of spending in this area, a 16% increase over last year.

On Friday, the White House sought to highlight significant proposed spending increases in programs it said would make the country healthier and more equal, putting $8.7 billion toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and $10.7 billion toward opioid addiction.

It would more than double Title I spending on high-poverty schools, offer students a $400 annual increase in maximum Pell grants, and invest in programs to reduce racial inequities in housing, maternal health, and policing.

Biden’s budget proposal is a decided departure from the four years of budget requests from his predecessor, President Donald Trump, whose proposals to dramatically slash funding from departments and agencies were routinely ignored by Congress.

What hasn’t changed from one administration to another is that the president’s wish list is just that, a proposal mapping out his priorities. It will ultimately be up to Congress to allocate the funding to federal agencies during an appropriations process that is expected to be lengthy and could last well into the summer.

Which is not to suggest the administration’s lobbying over the budget hasn’t already begun.

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations and Budget Committee, Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget said, “this moment of crisis is also a moment of possibility.

“The upcoming appropriations process is another important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities,” she said.

“Together, America has a chance not simply to go back to the way things were before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn struck, but to begin building a better, stronger, more secure, more inclusive America,” Young added.

The Treasury Department followed with a statement that said the funding request “invests in the core foundations of our country’s strength and advances key department priorities, including ensuring that all Americans are treated fairly by our tax system, expanding programs that offer loans to start-ups and small businesses to promote affordable housing and community revitalization projects, and closing loopholes that allow illicit actors to evade scrutiny, mask their dealings, and shield illegal activity.

“If you’re an individual taxpayer or a small business, it’s much more difficult to navigate the financial services sector – and America’s tax system – than if you’re a large company,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. 

“The president’s funding request makes things fairer. It injects capital into communities where capital is usually hard to come by. It will make paying taxes a more seamless process for millions of Americans. And it makes sure that corporations actually pay what they owe,” she said.

Biden’s request kicks off the annual appropriations process in Congress, which requires both chambers to pass 12 spending bills to fund the government before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. 

If Congress fails to pass the spending bills or a last minute stopgap measure before the spending cycle ends, the government will shut down.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the budget request “strong” and said it honors the truth that a federal budget “should be a statement of our national values and must reflect America’s priorities. 

“The Biden budget paves the path for opportunity, prosperity and justice For The People,” she said. “It is transformational, making important and overdue investments in the foundations of America’s strength, including by creating good-paying jobs and powering economic growth that will ensure our global competitiveness.  It will make a significant difference in the lives of the American people: advancing their health, economic security and well-being.”

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Friday that Biden’s budget proposal “reverses decades of disinvestment by prioritizing initiatives that will help working families and the vulnerable. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has exposed serious needs across the United States, this request meets the moment and charts a course for a better future.

“Beginning with our budget review hearings that start next week, the House Appropriations Committee will exercise our power of the purse to turn these important proposals into funding legislation that will make government work for the people, not the powerful,” she said.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the spending plan “makes clear what President Biden values most: the American people, our children, our health, our environment, and our future. 

“Unlike the budgets of the past four years, this budget blueprint is based in reality,” Pallone continued. “It boosts investments in critical health and environmental programs that are essential to moving our nation forward as we continue to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild our economy from the devastation of the past year. 

“The president’s budget investments in clean energy, in particular, will create new good-paying jobs that help get Americans back to work. I look forward to hearing more from the administration about its budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year in the weeks and months ahead,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, Congressional Republicans held another view.

In a joint statement, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Budget Committee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., roundly panned the proposal, saying, among other things, that the White House had “prioritized spending trillions on liberal wish list priorities here at home, funding for America’s military is neglected.”

“President Biden’s budget proposal cuts defense spending, sending a terrible signal not only to our adversaries in Beijing and Moscow, but also to our allies and partners,” they said. “Cutting America’s defense budget completely undermines Washington Democrats’ tough talk on China and calls into question the administration’s willingness to confront the Chinese Communist Party.

“President Biden’s own Pentagon leadership team acknowledges that the defense strategy they inherited is largely on the right track, and that resourcing the strategy requires significant real growth in the defense budget. Anything less than real growth will force the Department to choose between taking care of service members and ensuring they have the tools and training to meet new and growing threats,” they continued.

“Talk is cheap, but defending our country is not. We can’t afford to fail in our constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense. To keep America strong, we must balance domestic and defense spending priorities,” they concluded. “President Biden has said much about reaching across the aisle. Both parties should be able to agree that we must maintain America’s edge over China. We urge President Biden to work with us in a bipartisan manner to ensure that.”

Also commenting on the budget proposal was Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscal watchdog.

Defeating COVID and supporting the economic recovery have been – rightly so – the top priority for the past year. But with the debt and deficit both projected to reach all-time highs this year, it’s time to start planning how to improve our long-term fiscal outlook.

The President’s proposed 16 percent increase in non-defense discretionary spending comes on top of a more than 20 percent increase since 2017, and would be quite costly if it isn’t offset elsewhere in the budget. Assuming these increases are sustained in future years, they would cost hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade.

President Biden is entitled to pursue his policy agenda, but the expiration of discretionary spending caps shouldn’t mean the end of budget discipline. The President’s proposal, if anything, is a good reminder on the need to extend the discretionary spending caps that expire at the end of this year. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree, particularly without identifying offsetting tax increases or spending reductions.

Importantly, discretionary spending encompasses only a third of the budget. We can’t truly evaluate the President’s agenda until we know how he’ll address the other two-thirds of the budget and what he will do on the other side of the ledger with taxes. We hope the full budget plan will include policies to not only offset new spending, but secure the trust funds and improve the country’s long-term fiscal path.

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