September 17, 2021

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Biden Details $1.52 Trillion Spending Proposal to Fund Discretionary Priorities – The New York Times

7 min read

WASHINGTON — President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on domestic discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.

Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.

It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.

The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.

All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.

Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”

As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.

Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.

Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

Democratic leaders in Congress hailed the plan on Friday and suggested they would incorporate it into government spending bills for the 2022 fiscal year. The plan “proposes long overdue and historic investments in jobs, worker training, schools, food security, infrastructure and housing,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Republicans criticized the proposal as skeletal in detail while calling it an overreaching expansion of the federal government. They also said the administration was not spending enough on defense to counter a growing threat from China.

“While President Biden has prioritized spending trillions on liberal wish list priorities here at home, funding for America’s military is neglected,” ” a group of top Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said in a joint statement.

Progressives in the House made the opposite complaint: that Mr. Biden was spending too much on the military.

“A proposed increase of $13 billion in defense spending is far too much given its already rapid growth at a time of relative peace,” said Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin. “We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump.”

In a letter accompanying the proposal on Friday, Shalanda D. Young, who is serving as Mr. Biden’s acting budget director, told congressional leaders that the discretionary spending process would be an “important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”

The administration is focusing on education spending in particular, seeing that as a way to help children escape poverty. Mr. Biden asked Congress to bolster funding to high-poverty schools by $20 billion, which it describes as the largest year-over-year increase to the Title I program since its inception under President Lyndon B. Johnson. The program provides funding for schools that have high numbers of students from low-income families, most often by providing remedial programs and support staff.

The request also seeks billions of dollars in increases to early-childhood education, to programs serving students with disabilities and to efforts to staff schools with nurses, counselors and mental health professionals — described as an attempt to help children recover from the pandemic, but also a longstanding priority for teachers’ unions.

There is no talk in the plans of tying federal dollars to accountability measures for teachers and schools, as they often were under President Barack Obama.

The request also shows an increasing sense of urgency in the Biden administration to deter migration to the southwestern border, while breaking from Mr. Trump’s border security policies. Republicans criticized Mr. Biden on Friday for not increasing border patrol funding or including money to complete Mr. Trump’s efforts to build a wall across the southern border with Mexico.

Instead, Mr. Biden proposed investing $861 million in Central America, part of the four-year $4 billion package the administration has committed to spending to improve the economy and quality of life in the region. Another $1.2 billion would go toward investing in border security technology, such as sensors to detect illegal crossings and tools to improve entry ports. It also included increased oversight of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including money to investigate work force complaints related to white supremacy.

The request for the Justice Department reflects another shift from the Trump era, prioritizing civil rights issues and domestic terrorism, instead of Mr. Trump’s focus on street crime and gang violence.

Mr. Biden also used the spending request to put in action his vision of having every cabinet chief, whether they are military leaders, diplomats, fiscal regulators or federal housing planners, charged with incorporating climate change into their missions.

The proposal aims to embed climate programs into agencies that are not usually seen as at the forefront of tackling global warming, like the Agriculture and Labor Departments. That money would be in addition to clean energy spending in Mr. Biden’s proposed infrastructure legislation, which would pour about $500 billion on programs such as increasing electric vehicle production and building climate-resilient roads and bridges.

Much of the proposed increase would go to research and development of advanced low-carbon energy technology, which would be funneled through the Energy Department’s network of national laboratories.

Funding at the Energy Department would increase by $4.3 billion, or 10.2 percent over last year’s levels. That includes $1.7 billion to research and develop technologies such as new nuclear power plants or hydrogen fuels and $1.9 billion for a new clean-energy initiative to help make homes more energy-efficient and speed up permitting of transmission lines that can carry wind and solar power across the country. Mr. Biden has proposed further spending on those efforts in his infrastructure plan.

The Environmental Protection Agency, whose funding and staffing levels the Trump administration sought to cut, would get a $2 billion increase under Mr. Biden’s plan.

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Health funding is also prioritized in the request, with an almost 25 percent increase in discretionary funding — to $131.7 billion — for the Department of Health and Human Services, the hub of the federal government’s pandemic response. That increase includes a $1.6 billion increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency public health experts have viewed as chronically underfunded and neglected until public health emergencies.

Almost a billion dollars would go to the Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.

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