Biden $1.5T budget proposes major hike in social programs

President Biden on Friday proposed a $1.5 trillion annual budget for fiscal 2022, $118 billion higher than the regular 2020 appropriations, featuring a significant 16 percent boost in nondefense spending.

The $769 billion nondefense budget, which covers government departments such as Transportation, Health and Human Services, Justice and Education, is a $105.7 billion increase from the current level.

Administration officials, who say that the government has underinvested in domestic spending for years, noted that it would be roughly in line with the 30-year nondefense average of 3.3 percent of gross domestic product.

Defense spending, which some budget watchers expected to stay flat in the proposal, would increase by $12.3 billion, or 1.7 percent, to $753 billion, though none of that spending will take place through a decades-old “emergency” bucket of spending that many derided as a budget gimmick and slush fund.

In a stark reversal from four years of budget requests from President Trump, which sought to slash funding for major agencies but were routinely dismissed by Congress, the Biden proposal beefs up government agencies, including a 40.8 percent increase for Education, a 27.7 percent increase for Commerce, a 23.1 percent increase for Health and Human Services and a 16 percent increase for Agriculture.

It would also boost agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency by 21.3 percent and the National Science Foundation by 19.8 percent.

The defense level, which rose dramatically under Trump, is likely to receive pushback from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has pushed for cuts to a defense budget they say is bloated.

“This year’s appropriations process arrives during one of the most difficult periods in the Nation’s history,” acting White House budget chief Shalanda Young wrote in a letter accompanying the budget request to the top appropriators in Congress, pointing to the pandemic and its associated economic crises.

“Yet this moment of crisis is also a moment of possibility. 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.”

If enacted, the budget would be a change from historical trends, putting more resources into nondefense programs than defense.

The White House pointed to 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 research and prevention.

It would more than double Title I spending on high-poverty schools, increase the maximum level of Pell Grants to $400, and invest in programs to reduce racial inequities in housing, maternal health and policing.

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 Oct. 1. Without spending bills or a stopgap measure, the government shuts down.

While the House Appropriations Committee already announced hearings for next week to review the budget requests, the road ahead is expected to be long and contentious.

Republicans, whose votes are needed to pass appropriations bills in the Senate, have already begun raising alarms over spending levels on big-ticket items such as the most recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill, which is separate from the annual spending proposed in Friday’s request.

While many budget watchers endorsed running up historic deficits in order to pay for trillions in emergency COVID-19 relief, they warn that deficits must be tackled in the long run.

The White House has not said whether it intends to pay for the increases, which could add upward of $1.3 trillion to the deficit over the course of a decade.

Friday’s request fell short of even the typical “skinny” budgets that administrations often put forth to begin the appropriations process.

Instead of the typical 10-year window for spending, it addressed only the 2022 discretionary budget, and included no details on tax proposals or mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which comprise the lion’s share of annual government spending. Biden is set to include those details as part of a full, formal budget request later in the spring.

Conservatives are likely to howl at Biden’s proposal to not only zero out funding for Trump’s border wall, but also claw back previously appropriated funds, as well as his focus on civil rights enforcement and police reform. Proposals on gun safety and increases to Title X family planning are also likely to draw criticism from the right.

The decision to increase defense spending, which administration officials said would cover an increase in military pay, could also face backlash from progressives, who have argued that military spending is bloated and not subject to the same oversight as other government spending.

“It took about 20 years for the Pentagon to do a partial audit, and then they flunked it,” said Lindsay Koshgarian, program director of the left-leaning National Priorities Project, which has advocated for a 10 percent cut in defense spending.

“It’s not even a question of whether the money is doing good things, it’s a question of even knowing where the money is going, and even the Pentagon doesn’t know. You can imagine if that were the case for a social safety net program, the kind of flack it would get,” she added.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised the dramatic increase in domestic spending, which he said had dropped over the past decade as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act and its caps on annual spending.

“It is no accident our country was unprepared for the COVID pandemic and that our national stockpile of equipment like PPE [personal protective equipment] and ventilators was woefully inadequate, nor is it surprising that our Nation’s infrastructure is crumbling,” he said.

“It was the consequence of insufficient public investments, and this is a story that rings true across the entire country.”

Congress regularly increased the legal caps under the law, which expires this year.

Via The Hill