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Biden budget seeks to flip script on Trump administration’s spending priorities

The White House wants more money for all the programs Trump had sought to slash.

President Biden, accompanied by Vice President Harris, right, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, second from right, departs after speaking about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House on Thursday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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President Biden’s first budget request to Congress includes $1.5 trillion in federal spending that turbocharges funding for education, health and environmental protections — flipping the script on the very programs the Trump administration long ridiculed and sought to slash.

The split is also laid bare in defense spending, which ramped up during the Trump years but would stay essentially flat under Biden’s pitch.

The White House proposal released Friday now goes to Congress, which ultimately holds the purse strings. Democrats hold narrow majorities in the House and Senate and are likely to rely on Republicans to get the budget through, especially as Democrats vie for a massive jobs and infrastructure plan on top of Biden’s recent coronavirus stimulus bill.

But no matter how Congress recalibrates the request, Biden’s initial swing stands in stark contrast to Trump’s spending goals. Trump’s budget proposals were often ignored by Congress, but they did serve as a marker of his priorities. He mostly sought to slash programs he alleged were examples of bloated government waste. Biden’s budget frames the government in a much different light.

What Trump proposed in his 2021 budget

His proposal, for example, includes almost $103 billion for the Education Department, a massive 41 percent increase over the 2021 enacted level.

The White House proposal would bolster the Title I program, which serves high-poverty schools, doubling funding. It falls short of Biden’s campaign promise to triple funding, but would still easily represent the largest increase in the program’s history and comes on top of a huge infusion of funds to these schools through the rescue act. The plan also targets students’ physical and mental well-being by increasing the federal support for counselors, nurses and mental health professionals in schools. And the request would increase funding for special education and related services for students with disabilities, taking a small step toward Biden’s campaign goal of fully funding the longtime unfulfilled federal commitment for special education.

Biden seeks huge funding increases for education, health care and environmental protection in first budget request to Congress

For higher education, Biden’s proposal invests an additional $3 billion in Pell Grants, allowing an increase of $400 to the maximum grant, now set at $6,345. That falls well short of his promise to double Pell Grants, though more funding could be coming when the White House releases its complete budget plan. He called for dreamers, undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children, to become eligible for Pell Grants, a policy change Congress would need to endorse. The proposal also seeks to boost funding for historically Black colleges and universities, tribally controlled colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

By comparison, Trump’s budget proposal for 2021 sought to cut education funding by $5.6 billion, or roughly 8 percent. Trump’s final plan while in office sought steep cuts to the student loan program intended to slash popular initiatives like a loan forgiveness program for students who take public service jobs, and subsidized lending for low-income students. In terms of spending increases, Trump’s proposal put a new $5 billion tax credit to reward donors who contribute to private school scholarships.

Biden says he’s open to compromise with Republicans on $2 trillion infrastructure plan

On health-care spending, Biden’s proposal would ramp up funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to $131.7 billion, a 23.5 percent increase from the 2021 enacted level.

That would include $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up $1.6 billion over the 2021 enacted level and the largest budget authority increase for the CDC in nearly 20 years. The request also includes $905 million for the Strategic National Stockpile to replenish critical medical supplies and other needs amid the pandemic.

Beyond coronavirus, the proposal would put $10.7 billion to combat the opioid crisis, and $670 million to fight the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. It also increases appropriations for mental health services and block grants and expands suicide-prevention activities. The proposal also spans a number of other health-based initiatives, including addressing racial disparities in health care, reducing the maternal mortality rate and increasing funding for domestic violence hotlines and medical support.

Trump’s 2021 budget proposal sought to cut HHS discretionary spending by 9 percent. The proposal sought to eliminate Community Development Block Grants, low-income energy assistance and certain training programs for health professionals — efforts which had long been part of a conservative push.

Under Trump’s proposal in February 2020, the budget for the CDC would have been reduced by almost 16 percent. At the time, HHS officials proposed refocusing the CDC on its core mission of preventing and controlling infectious diseases and other public health crises, such as opioid addiction, while cutting funding for non-infectious-disease activities.

Adding to Biden’s broader push for a greener economic and climate policy, the administration’s budget proposal would hike funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 21.3 percent from the 2021 enacted level. The proposal spans efforts to restaff the EPA — which lost nearly 1,000 workers over the past four years — and investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Building on Biden’s jobs and infrastructure proposal, the budget request includes funding for community water systems, repairs for septic systems and cleaning up contaminated land.

In contrast, Trump sought deep cuts at the EPA and put forward a 2021 budget that would decrease funding by 26 percent from 2020 enacted levels. The White House zeroed in on what it called “50 wasteful programs that are outside of EPA’s core missions or duplicative of other efforts” as part of a widespread push to reverse many of the environmental protections put in place during the Obama administration.

And in another split, the Biden administration is seeking to increase funding for the Department of Commerce by 28 percent from the 2021 enacted level. Trump’s 2021 proposal sought to slash Commerce’s budget by 37 percent — 10 percent more than any other department — largely due to the decrease in spending on the U.S. Census.

Biden budget breakdown 2022: How much funding each department could get

The Trump years were also marked by dramatic attempts to increase military spending. Trump’s proposed 2021 budget gave a roughly 13 percent boost to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also sought to increase overall spending to the Department of Homeland Security by 3.2 percent and would have increased NASA’s budget by $2.7 billion, putting $700 million to support lunar activities.

Now, Biden is proposing a 1.7 percent increase in funding for national defense programs — much smaller than the administration’s other pushes for education, climate and health. Funding for DHS would stay roughly equal to the 2021 enacted level. Investments in the Department of Veterans Affairs would go up 8.2 percent, and funding for NASA 6.3 percent.

Laura Meckler contributed to this report.

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