Many of the programs Biden seeks to fund at higher levels starting in October are initiatives that President Donald Trump had unsuccessfully tried to slash while in the White House. In a further break with Trump, who labored to spend sizable sums on defense during his term, Biden’s new plan calls for a less than 2 percent increase for the military in the upcoming fiscal year.
But the administration’s approach quickly divided lawmakers from both parties. Senior Senate Republicans accused the president of trying to shortchange the Pentagon, alleging that this would put the country at a disadvantage against China. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other liberals demanded deep cuts to the military’s budget, though they endorsed the domestic investments that Biden put forward.
The mixed reception illustrates the balancing act Biden faces as he tries to navigate a Washington budget process that remains unsettled in the aftermath of the Trump administration. Democrats notched numerous spending victories during Trump’s presidency because Republicans kept capitulating on demands for spending controls. Biden, Republicans and congressional liberals are all expected to test one another again in the coming months as they debate the budget plan.
Under Biden’s proposal, the Education Department would see a roughly 41 percent increase over its current allocation, reaching $102 billion next fiscal year, with most of the new funds targeted for the Title I program, which funds high-poverty schools. The proposal would double federal spending on Title I — the largest increase since the program was created more than 55 years ago.
The plan also proposes a roughly 23 percent boost to the Department of Health and Human Services, including more than $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the administration says is the highest funding level for the public health agency in two decades. It would further create a new federal agency under the National Institutes of Health, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, focused initially on innovative research on cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Biden long has had an intense interest in cancer, and translating basic scientific discoveries into cures for patients, particularly after the death of his son, Beau, from a glioblastoma in 2015.
The budget envisions putting nearly $69 billion in federal money toward addressing public housing, a 15 percent increase from the amounts enacted in 2021, to help low-income families obtain affordable accommodations. And the Biden administration hopes to set aside a total of $14 billion in new sums across the government to protect the environment, including efforts to reduce carbon emissions and research clean-energy technology.
“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,” the White House’s acting budget chief, Shalanda Young, said in a letter accompanying the blueprint Friday.
In releasing the spending document, the White House set off what is an annual, often bitterly partisan fight in Washington, as lawmakers race to fund the government before the current spending agreement expires at the end of September. The vast increases Biden seeks come in addition to the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package that he signed into law last month and the roughly $2 trillion plan to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure that the White House asked Congress to adopt last week. In total, the budget would lift all federal discretionary spending by roughly 8 percent in 2022.
But setting federal spending at such high levels may prove difficult for Democrats, who maintain only narrow majorities in the House and Senate. They will probably have to rely on Republicans, who maintain filibuster power in the Senate, to fund the government. And some GOP lawmakers already have shown a renewed interest in tightening the federal purse strings — and addressing the budget deficit — after largely ignoring the issue during Trump’s presidency.
On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) joined a group of fellow Republicans to lay down an apparent early marker over Biden’s proposal for the military. The spending request seeks to allot roughly $715 billion in defense spending in the next fiscal year, far less than the 3 to 5 percent annual increase that some Republicans say is necessary to keep the U.S. military apace with emerging threats, including China.
“To keep America strong, we must balance domestic and defense spending priorities,” McConnell said in a joint statement with fellow GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), who are senior members of key Senate committees overseeing spending and national security.
“President Biden has said much about reaching across the aisle,” they continued. “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.”
Anticipating the fight ahead, a senior administration official on Friday acknowledged that this is only “the beginning of a long appropriations process” on Capitol Hill. But the aide, who briefed reporters on the budget before its release on the condition of anonymity, said the document for now serves as a “great marker” of the White House’s priorities — and its belief that the country in recent years has underinvested in domestic agencies and programs.
For the past decade, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have been beholden to spending caps as a result of a budget-balancing law Congress adopted in 2011. That has taken its greatest toll on domestic agencies, limiting federal spending across government even as defense funding has continued to rise. But those caps expire entering the 2022 fiscal year, allowing Biden broad latitude to seek major increases in areas including education, commerce, energy and health.
“With austerity caps and an era of chronic disinvestment finally behind us, Congress can turn this proposal into a budget that will help generate a stronger, fairer economy, while truly meeting the needs of our communities,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in a statement.
Under Biden’s blueprint, the country would spend $769 billion on nondefense programs. The education dollars include new boosts to Pell Grants, which offer support to low-income college students, though the $400 annual increase the president has proposed is smaller than the amount he initially endorsed on the campaign trail. The budget proposal would also expand government-supported child-care programs and add money to hire more counselors and mental health professionals at schools.
Other new funding is slated for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would see a major expansion of voucher programs that might help more than 200,000 families, the administration estimates. And the budget aims to boost climate-change-focused programs, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Aiming to reverse massive cuts at the EPA over the past decade, the Biden administration has requested a roughly 21 percent increase in its funding, which would support a new, $936 million “environmental justice initiative” that promises to “hold polluters accountable.”
Some of the budget proposals seek to expand initiatives enacted under the $1.9 trillion stimulus, the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed into law last month. They include new money to help homeless families and veterans, and new funding for public health programs targeting racial and ethnic minorities. The budget also proposes roughly $100 million to aid states so they can further improve their unemployment benefits systems in the wake of crushing demand earlier in the pandemic.
Other proposed increases track long-held Democratic policy priorities. There’s more money proposed for police reform and changes to the criminal justice system, for example, and new investments — totaling $2.1 billion — to try to combat gun violence. And the Biden administration has recommended a significant increase in funding to fight the opioid epidemic, hoping to devote $10.7 billion to the cause next fiscal year.
Republicans sharply blasted the budget proposal Friday. Rep. Jason T. Smith (Mo.), the top GOP lawmaker on the House Budget Committee, criticized the Biden administration for producing what he said amounted to a “back-of-the-envelope booking exercise” weeks late. For its part, the White House faced early obstacles in preparing its spending request because of delays created by the outgoing Trump administration as it sought to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election. Adding to the trouble, Biden’s initial pick to lead his top budget office, Neera Tanden, ultimately had to withdraw from consideration after some of her tweets drew political blowback.
Biden’s budget marks a dramatic shift in approach compared with Trump, under whom federal spending largely stayed flat until Congress was forced to authorize sweeping new aid in 2020 amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The gap between government spending and revenue grew to more than $3.1 trillion in 2020 after running above $1 trillion for several years.
To finance these deficits, the Treasury Department issues debt to borrow money. Federal Reserve officials and others encouraged the White House to borrow money last year to help the recovery and because interest rates were low, but the government must still pay interest on large borrowing levels. Last year, total government debt eclipsed the entire size of the American economy — and over the four years of Trump’s presidency it grew from about $14 trillion to more than $21 trillion.
During his less than three months in office, Biden has not shown any inclination to pivot toward austerity. He has already signed the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, proposed more than $2 trillion in infrastructure spending and then called for new domestic spending as part of his budget plan Friday.
Biden’s budget proposal does not include new ideas for changing the tax code. Earlier in the week, the Treasury Department unveiled a $2.5 trillion plan to raise corporate taxes to finance infrastructure changes, but the president has not specified whether he will seek further changes to the tax code to offset other areas of new spending.
- Laura Meckler and Laurie McGinley contributed to this report.