By Caitlin Emma
04/09/2021 11:00 AM EDT Updated: 04/09/2021 02:55 PM EDT
President Joe Biden’s first budget calls for massive boosts to low-income schools, public health programs and fighting climate change, plus a slight Pentagon funding bump that is unlikely to fly with many in Congress.
The request unveiled by the White House on Friday asks Congress to provide non-defense programs with a total of $769 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, in addition to $753 billion for national defense programs, including cash for overseas activities.
That amounts to a 16 percent increase over current funding levels for domestic programs — bringing that total to 3.3 percent of GDP — while providing just a 1.7 percent increase for the military. The proposed slowdown in military growth is likely to kick off battles with defense hawks in Congress, as well as progressives like Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who are calling for a 10 percent cut in Pentagon spending.
Biden’s request calls for infusing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with $8.7 billion — the largest budget hike for the agency in two decades. It seeks a $20 billion increase for the Title I program for low-income schools, bringing the program’s overall total to $36.5 billion. And it proposes funneling $14 billion toward climate change investments, including $1.7 billion to improve the energy efficiency of homes, schools and federal buildings.
“This moment of crisis is also a moment of possibility,” acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young told congressional spending leaders in a letter.
With less than six months left until government funding runs out, lawmakers will use Biden’s request as a guide in deciding how much to send federal agencies in fiscal 2022, which begins Oct. 1.
The plan was swiftly greeted with praise from Democrats like Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and House Budget Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), while progressives and Republicans fired off criticism over the Pentagon’s proposed topline.
Sanders praised the Biden administration for proposing “a much needed and substantial increase in funding for education, affordable housing, health care, environmental protection and the needs of our veterans.“ But the chair of the Senate Budget Committee said he has “serious concerns” about funding for “the bloated Pentagon.”
“At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined, it is time for us to take a serious look at the massive cost over-runs, the waste and fraud that currently exists at the Pentagon,” Sanders said.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said the small defense spending increase Biden has pitched “is far too much given its already rapid growth at a time of relative peace.“
“We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump,” he said.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the Senate’s top GOP appropriator, said Biden’s desire to essentially flat-fund the military “signals weakness to China and Russia, who are aggressively investing in their militaries.“
“The proposal also takes a meat ax to border security funding,” Shelby said. “That signals to illegal immigrants that the flood gates will remain open on the Southern border, despite the growing crisis we already face.“
As soon as next week, Cabinet officials will trek to Capitol Hill to defend the budget proposal. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough are all scheduled to appear before House appropriators.
The president wants Congress to funnel $6.5 billion to launch a research program within the National Institutes of Health focused on diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The budget request calls for providing the Justice Department with $2.1 billion to tackle gun violence, amounting to a $232 million boost over the previous year. And more than $30 billion would flow to the extension of housing vouchers, with a focus on helping the homeless or those fleeing domestic violence.
The request is separate from Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure and jobs plan, and it only covers discretionary spending, which amounts to about a third of the federal budget. A fuller White House budget release, which will include proposals for mandatory spending and tax reform, will be released later this spring and will tie everything together, an official said.
The process of funding the government for the next fiscal year is “another important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities,” Young wrote to lawmakers.
“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,” she wrote.
Every major federal department would see at least a small budget hike under Biden’s proposal, with agencies like the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services receiving some of the largest increases.
“This is something that we hope will start a discussion about the right size of non-defense discretionary [spending],” a senior administration official said on Friday. “This budget is intended to right the ship in a lot of areas that I think both parties have shown a historic interest in.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would nudge up by less than 1 percent, to $52 billion, after four years of significant funding hikes the Trump administration pursued for its border wall and immigration detention programs. That includes $1.2 billion for border security and no additional cash for a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.
Congress and the White House are approaching the coming fiscal year unburdened by strict funding limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which for a decade established caps on how much money Congress can spend. The current fiscal year, fiscal 2021, was the last year those limits applied.
While Biden’s budget establishes a marker about how he wants to fund both non-defense and defense programs, any government funding deal will ultimately require support from at least 10 Senate Republicans, ensuring the president’s proposed funding levels will go through a wringer of high-stakes spending negotiations that could end in short-term static funding for all programs or a government shutdown.
Once Congress adopts a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year, Democrats can also move to use the budget process to steer major legislation past a potential Senate filibuster — like the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill they enacted last month without a single Republican vote in the Senate.