President Joe Biden has taken a go-big approach to his young presidency, and his 2022 budget proposal released Friday afternoon follows suit: The president is asking Congress for a historically high $6 trillion in spending.
In many ways, the fiscal 2022 budget plays to the “tax-and-spend” moniker Republicans have derisively applied to Democrats. Not only does it include historically high spending on domestic initiatives, but the programs would be financed by tax hikes on corporations and on high-income earners. The 2022 budget deficit would be more than $1.84 trillion, dropping after that to more than $1.37 trillion, the budget document projects.
But the document also reflects a new populist approach Biden has taken to budgeting – spend big on public works, help for the unemployed and struggling families, and bank on those investments paying off in a stronger economy, higher wages and reduced poverty.
“Where we choose to invest speaks to what we value as a Nation,” Biden said in his opening statement to Congress.
“This year’s Budget, the first of my Presidency, is a statement of values that define our Nation at its best. It is a Budget for what our economy can be, who our economy can serve, and how we can build it back better by putting the needs, goals, ingenuity, and strength of the American people front and center.”
Biden’s first part of that plan – a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan billed as a pandemic relief package – is already in effect, providing direct payments of up to $1,400 for millions of Americans, loans and grants to businesses hit hard by the pandemic, and tax credits aimed at cutting child poverty rates in half.
His budget includes his next two big-ticket asks – the American Jobs Plan, meant to improve America’s infrastructure, and the American Families Plan, which includes such items as direct support to families, two free years of community college and expanded health care.
Biden’s budget also includes items on the Democratic wish list, such as $2.1 billion for the Department of Justice to address gun violence as a public health issue, major new climate change investments and $1 billion to address gender-based violence. It also proposes $30.4 billion to expand Housing Choice vouchers to end homelessness – an initiative the Biden administration said would provide assistance to 200,000 more families.
The proposal also calls on Congress to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug companies for lower prices – a longtime goal of Democrats and some Republicans that has been opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.
As expected, the budget proposal removes the Hyde Amendment language banning federal funds for abortions.
Biden’s budget also includes a historically high $36.5 billion for high-poverty schools, increases in funding for civil rights offices across the nation and $10.7 billing to address the opioid epidemic.
To address immigration, the Biden budget proposes $861 million in aid to Central America to help create a stable environment to discourage people from flooding to the border. Another $345 million would go to adjudicate naturalization and asylum cases of those who have been waiting for years.
The already-announced infrastructure package is still being negotiated with Congress. Biden has reduced his initial ask of $2.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion. Republicans have counter-offered with a $928 billion plan that does not include child care help, raising wages for home health care workers, and other items the Biden administration says are part of the modern definition of “infrastructure.”
Biden’s proposal faces a tough audience on Capitol Hill. Republicans immediately denounced it as way too pricey.
“President Biden’s budget is a recipe for mounting debt and crippling deficits. This bloated $6 trillion proposal would take our nation to its highest levels of spending and debt since we fought World War II,” Sen. John Barasso, Wyoming Repubican and chairman of the Senate Republcian Conference, said in a statement. “We should be focused on helping the economy recover from the pandemic. The president’s runaway spending is mortgaging our children’s future,” he said.
Not only are Republicans likely to be unanimously opposed to Biden’s budget proposal, but presidential budgets typically are considered nothing more than an outside opinion by Congress.
Congress has the authority to pass spending bills and historically does not like the White House – no matter who occupies the Oval Office – telling it how to spend money.
That trend has escalated in the last decade or so, with presidential administrations not even bothering anymore to hold the detailed, agency-by-agency briefings on what the budget proposal says about presidential priorities as well as the long-term economic forecast for the country.
The fact that the Biden administration released its budget proposal on the Friday afternoon of a three-day holiday weekend is an indicator of how disinterested the White House is in making a major news splash with the spending plan.
Biden spent his day in Virginia, touting the progress the state has made in vaccinating its residents and reducing cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
But while the budget is highly unlikely to be approved as is, it does provide a critical tool to Democrats trying to get Biden’s agenda passed: It serves as the vehicle for another “budget reconciliation” bill, on which the infrastructure package theoretically could be attached.
Biden got his American Rescue Plan passed exactly at the spending level he wanted because Senate Democrats made it part of a budget reconciliation bill. Such legislation, which allows sped-up consideration of certain tax, spending and debt items, cannot be filibustered. That means the Senate would only need the votes of the 50 Democratic members, plus a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris to pass it.
The Senate used a budget reconciliation bill connected to the 2021 fiscal year to get the American Rescue Plan through. A fiscal year 2022 bill could be used to enact the infrastructure package without any GOP votes.
Biden and administration officials have insisted there is still time to get an agreement with Republicans so they can have a bipartisan bill. But Biden also has made it clear he will not wait too long for a deal that will never come. When Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, the White House negotiated with Republicans for many months on the Affordable Care Act in hopes of a bipartisan package, but he ended up with just a single GOP “aye” in the House and none in the Senate.
Biden has been making a broader appeal to the public for his big-ticket plans, and polling indicates that has worked, with strong majorities of Americans – though minorities of Republicans – backing his coronavirus-relief and infrastructure plans. The president made an oblique reference to that divide between congressional Republicans and the public at large when he spoke Friday in Virginia.
“The American people are more ready to come together, I believe, then the Congress and the elected officials are,” Biden said at an indoor rock-climbing facility. “But we’re getting there.”