President Joe Biden asked Congress for $769 billion in federal outlays on discretionary, non-defense programs in his first formal spending request Friday — a 16% increase from former President Donald Trump’s last budget.
The funding request for fiscal year 2022 comes on the heels of the passage of his $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill and as Congress begins to consider Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package.
It reflects the posture Biden has taken in the first months of his presidency when it comes to reversing what White House officials believe is significant underinvestment in social programs and domestic priorities over the course of the last decade. And it erases some Trump priorities, including spending on the border wall Trump campaigned on 2016 and made a centerpiece of his administration.
Biden’s request also includes $753 billion in proposed spending on national defense programs, a 1.7% increase from last year, according to a memo from acting Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young.
Defense funding, a hot-button issue
The proposal includes a request for $715 billion in Pentagon funding, a slight uptick from the prior year, but one that is likely to draw criticism from both sides of the aisle.
Biden’s number falls short of the $722 billion the Trump administration had laid out for fiscal 2022 and, if enacted, would force Defense Department planners to shave off up $7 billion from their future spending plans — something GOP defense hawks are likely to criticize.
But the proposal is also likely to draw heat from progressive Democrats, who have pressured the White House to significantly cut the Pentagon’s budget. Instead, after some reports that the administration would keep its defense request flat, the White House plan boosts it by $11 billion from the prior fiscal year.
“Rather than requesting a flat Pentagon budget, we urge you to seek a significantly reduced Pentagon topline,” a group of 50 Democrats said in a March 16 letter to Biden.
An administration official briefing reporters Friday said “a large chunk” of the increase in defense spending is to pay for the pay raise for men and women in uniform.
“The focus will be on investments on non-defense but also ensuring that the Defense Department can continue its strategic goals as we out-compete China and as we ensure that the men and women in uniform have everything that they need,” the official said.
Proposals reflect spending on domestic priorities
The proposed discretionary spending request includes investments closely aligned with top Biden priorities like advancing racial equity, strengthening public education, combating climate change, and creating jobs and economic growth. And with budget caps now gone, the request shows that the administration isn’t wasting time moving to take advantage of the lack of restrictions in this initial list of priorities.
Biden proposed $27.8 billion for the Department of Agriculture, a $3.8 billion increase aimed at expanding rural broadband access and other investments, including addressing the growing threat of wildfires and infrastructure for safe drinking water.
It includes $11.4 billion for the Department of Commerce, a $2.5 billion increase from 2021, with investments for the supply chain and other research and technological innovation.
Biden’s request includes $102.8 billion for the Department of Education, a significant 41% increase from the 2021 level, aimed at addressing high-poverty schools, as well as the physical and mental well-being of students in the wake of the pandemic’s toll on schools. It also includes an increase for federal Pell Grants for higher education.
There is $46.1 billion in proposed spending for the Department of Energy, a $4.3 billion increase, which will largely focus on investment in clean energy.
Biden is proposing $131.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, a 23.5% increase from the last fiscal year, which will work to “(strengthen) national and global readiness for the next public health crisis,” Young said in a letter to congressional committee chairs. That includes an increase in $1.6 billion in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is also funding to help end the ongoing opioid crisis, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic. It includes additional funding for community mental health services. And the HHS spending proposal also includes $4.3 billion to “rebuild” the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Young wrote, as the US is expecting to resettle up to 125,000 refugees in 2022.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement, “The President’s funding request invests in America, addresses racial disparities in health care, tackles the opioid crisis, and puts us on a better footing to take on the next public health crisis.”
“Covid-19 shed light on how health inequities and lack of federal funding left communities vulnerable to crises,” Becerra said.
The request keeps funding for the Department of Homeland Security at $52 billion, approximately equal to its previous level. This includes $1.2 billion in funding for border infrastructure and support for the immigration system — but also contains no additional funding for Trump’s border wall and cancels any unspent money left over from 2021.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Biden’s request would “reinforce the basic missions of securing our homeland, including preventing terrorism; securing and managing our borders; repairing the broken immigration system; safeguarding critical infrastructure; and strengthening national preparedness.”
Mayorkas said in a statement: “It provides the Department with targeted resources to advance commonsense policy solutions that will keep our country safe, strong, and prosperous.”
“This includes smart investments to better manage the border, promote a humane and efficient immigration system, protect civil rights, bolster cyber defenses and resilience, and address the root causes of domestic terrorism,” Mayorkas continued.
The proposal includes $68.7 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a $9 billion increase from the previous year, which will expanding housing choice vouchers and make investments to end homelessness.
There is $17.4 billion proposed for the Department of the Interior, a $2.4 billion increase with funding aimed at remediating and reclaiming abandoned wells and mines, as well as funding for tribal nations.
The proposed $35.2 billion for the Department of Justice is an increase of $1.8 billion from Fiscal Year 2021, and includes funding targeted at civil rights enforcement, domestic terrorism, and gun violence.
Biden’s funding request for the Department of Labor is $14.2 billion, a $1.7 billion increase aimed at worker protections, expanding apprenticeships, and other measures.
The State Department’s proposed funding level is $63.5 billion, a 12% increase from the previous level, which includes an expansion of “American leadership in global health security,” per Young, as well as funding for US leadership on climate change.
The State Department said in a statement the funding “invests in the core foundations of our country’s strength and advances key State Department and USAID priorities, including working alongside and in partnership with other nations to address the pandemic and climate change as well as the growing ambitions of China and global threats to democracy.”
Biden is proposing $25.6 billion to the Department of Transportation, Young wrote, a $317 million increase from the previous year, though there is also a $3.2 billion increase for DOT discretionary programs. It includes funding for rail and buses. Biden has also proposed a sweeping infrastructure package that, if passed, could transform US transportation.
The Department of the Treasury’s proposed spending level is $14.9 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion, with the goal of a “fair and equitable tax system” and other investments in small businesses, per Young.
And finally, the Department of Veterans Affairs is proposed to receive $113.1 billion, an $8.5 billion increase, with more funding for VA medical care and veteran suicide prevention.
Biden is also proposing an increase of the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding to $11.2 billion, over $12 billion for the General Services Administration, $24.7 billion for NASA, $10.2 billion for the National Science Foundation, $852 million for the Small Business Administration, and $14.2 billion for the Social Security Administration.
In a sense, the Biden administration lays down a marker on priorities as lawmakers on Capitol Hill begin the appropriations process in the coming weeks.
The discretionary spending request is different from a full budget. A full budget includes mandatory spending and tax proposals, whereas the discretionary request includes topline funding levels, by agency, and guidance on proposed investments within individual agencies. The White House will send a full budget to Congress later this spring, but the request will let Congress begin its appropriations process in the meantime.
The administration official placed some blame for a delay in the discretionary funding request on the Trump administration.
“The past administration did not allow the staff to work with us on budget development, which past administrations had done during transition,” the official noted.
Despite the delay, the official said the administration would get “a full budget that reflects a comprehensive plan up in late spring.”
Administration officials say they are aware of the old adage that often rides with administration requests — the White House proposes, and Congress disposes. In other words, lawmakers, with the power of the purse, ultimately decide what’s in any final spending proposal and administration blueprints serve less as live negotiating documents and more as a statement of aspirational goals.
But White House officials plan to use the initial priorities laid out Friday, and the forthcoming budget, to press for Biden’s priorities as the process kicks into gear. It is a process, however, that will require bipartisan support. Any spending legislation will require 60 votes in the Senate, and while the Appropriations panels are considered an island of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized institution, Democrats currently hold 50 seats.
“This process has really kicked off and we’re glad to see that,” the official said, pointing to Appropriations committee hearings that have been announced. “We will continue our Hill outreach today.”