Many are stuck with President Joe Biden’s new 182-page budget proposalwhich the president describes as “a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America in a fiscally responsible way.”
Congress is unlikely to pass all, or even most, of the $6.88 trillion budget as written. Still, presidential budgets are important: They tell lawmakers and voters about an administration’s political priorities. And even Congress often simply ignoring large parts of the request, the president’s budget can still serve as a starting point for legislative talks. Last year, the White House’s priorities for an infrastructure deal influenced the final package passed by Congress.
This year, with Democrats no longer in control of Congress, the resulting budget document reflects both political pragmatism and political ambition. It also provides the clearest glimpse yet of how the White House plans to position itself in the upcoming battles around the debt ceiling and the 2024 re-election campaign. Biden is embracing the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility and national security, domains that used to be Republican territory. But he does so while rejecting any calls to roll back the welfare state. Instead, the budget lays the groundwork to expand it.
In addition to calls for increased military spending and new investments in the social safety net, the Biden budget aims to protect programs like Medicare and Social Security, largely by promoting new taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Perhaps the clearest way to understand this new budget is to compare it to Biden’s first two.
Five months after his inauguration, Biden proposed dramatic increases in federal spending, including a 16 percent increase in non-military spending for priorities such as public health, preschool, education, and combating climate change. The administration argued that low interest rates at the time presented an opportunity to make large investments in the country. With Democratic control of both houses of Congress, Biden’s first budget reflects a confidence that all members of his party will fall in line on his vastly ambitious social agenda — a miscalculation that has become clear when announcing Sens. objected. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
The following year, when Biden released his budget, he did so in a very different political climate. The Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was underway, the Biden administration had did not pass its ambitious Build Back Better agenda, and increased gas and grocery prices. Voters are expressing concerns in polls about crime and inflation, and Sen. Manchin — the primary Democratic holdout to Build Back Better in the Senate — has for months expressed concerns about the federal deficit. Republicans, meanwhile, is blasting the Democrats’ spending pandemic for fuel higher prices.
In a nod to Republicans and fiscal moderates like Manchin, Biden’s second budget made a clear pivot toward security and the economy. The White House’s second budget includes significant increases in military spending, new proposals aimed at reducing the federal deficitand less emphasis on major social programs that his administration failed to enact in 2021. There has been more focus on “unity of the two parties” investments, such as tackling the opioid crisis and health care for military veterans.
Biden has called for shrinking the government debt by $1 trillion over 10 years, largely by imposing higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, including a “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” in Americans with assets worth more than $100 million. The administration also tried to take credit for contracting the deficit in 2021, which technically true, even experts say that has more to do with pandemic spending on stimulus leveling off.
This year, in his third year in office and eyeing a looming battle over debt relief as well as a possible re-election campaign, the Biden administration has refocused on that focus, now calling for reducing the federal debt. of nearly $3 trillion (as Pentagon spending increases).
The White House is also setting a strong defense on protecting Medicare and Social Security, entitlement programs that budget experts say strain the federal purse strings, and Republicans have amputation was openly discussed. A new tax proposal on top earners would go toward funding Medicare, as would new proposals to negotiate drug costs.
The White House knows it’s at a disadvantage in the minds of voters when it comes to the economy. Polls generally reflect voters trust the Republicans more than just economic issues. But Medicare and Social Security are both very popular with voters, as are higher taxes on the rich and wealthy.
On social spending, the White House is sticking to key Democratic priorities, including a restoration of the expanded child tax creditan expansion of free school meals, paid family leavenew spending on high-poverty schools, child careand universal preschool for 4 year olds. (In previous budgets, the White House has called for universal preschool funding for 3-year-olds as well, but has said it wants a more targeted approach this year.)
While they are unlikely to pass this year in a Republican-controlled House, it is indicative of what Biden is likely to campaign on, should he run for re-election as he expected.
The budget shows an administration preparing for a series of battles and evaluating their strategy to win them: the White House is trying to position Democrats as the more fiscally responsible party, with priorities that match the public.