Biden’s $5.8 trillion budget proposal is aimed at moderates in a difficult year

More than a list of numbers, President Biden’s budget documents what he would most like to achieve this year and offers a glimpse of how his administration plans to address some of the distressing political realities he currently faces .

His $5.8 trillion proposal faces opposition from a divided Congress high inflationlow President’s Approval Ratings and midterm elections threatening Democratic majorities in the House and Senate later this year.

“What’s in store for him in this particular year is very scary” — as Democrats are “the clear favorite to lose the majority in at least the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate as well,” said Mark Harkins, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Government Institute for affairs.

“I will be very surprised if anything remarkable actually comes out of this particular convention,” added Harkins.

The President’s proposal includes a $2.5 trillion tax hike for the wealthy and corporations, $30 billion in funding for state and local police, about 4% more for military spending, $45 billion to fight climate change and means of solving supply chain problems.

The White House also claims that the budget would reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next decade. It includes some elements of the President’s Build Back Better agenda, such as climate change. But some key provisions aren’t included, including funding for programs like universal Pre-K and paid family leave, because he couldn’t convince all Senate Democrats to support them.

Each year, the President’s budget sets indicative spending levels for the government, while Congress passes individual budget laws that provide actual funding.

Thomas Kahn, a distinguished faculty member at American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said he thinks many elements of the president’s budget — including funding for additional police officers — should appeal to both Republicans and Democrats. He doesn’t believe the president’s proposal is necessarily dead, as presidential budgets often are.

But it’s unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans would join the 50 Senate Democrats in backing big budget bills ahead of an election where Democrats are expected to fare poorly, Harkins and Kahn agree. Republicans, they said, will want to wait and see if they win majorities in the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, which would give them control of the nation’s purse strings.

Most likely, Harkins said, Congress will fund the government at the same level after the fiscal year ends in September. Republicans “have no reason to help get anything done because they think they’re going to have a stronger negotiating hand next year,” Harkins said.

Mr. Biden’s anticipated difficulty in implementing part of his agenda through the appropriation process is not uncommon. In fact, it’s rare in recent decades that Congress passed all of the required budget bills before October 1st. A 1977 analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 100% of Congressional budget bills would not be passed for four years – 1977, 1989, 1995 and 2000 – none of which were years when midterm elections were being held and only one, 2000, was a national election year. For most years, especially in recent times, Congress has passed few, if any, of the bills that fund government agencies and programs to deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell alluded to the upcoming midterm elections when he criticized the president’s proposal in the Senate Monday.

“From a president who chose not to change course, from a Democratic party who chose not to correct course on its own, every data point suggests the American people want and need a major course correction,” McConnell said on Monday. “It seems they’ll have to deploy it themselves in about seven months.”

Mr. Biden is also likely to face some challenges in attracting members of his own faction, particularly moderate Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Kahn said tax increases “generally” are difficult to enforce, especially in an election year. But he believes that tax hike might stand a better chance because it’s targeting the wealthy and tied to deficit reduction, which Manchin wants. And Kahn noted that the budget includes spending priorities that will help moderate Democrats running for re-election — like this increase in defense spending, as well as more funding for policing, immigration enforcement and deficit-reducing measures.

Manchin has signaled he is also open to some measures to address the growing threat of climate change, though he has resisted some approaches he believes would hurt the energy industry or increase the nation’s deficits.

Its communications director, Sam Runyon, said Manchin’s approach emphasizes US energy independence and favors energy policies that combine renewable and non-renewable domestic energy sources. Many liberals in Congress and in the administration would prefer to be more aggressive in moving the country away from greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources like coal.

Manchin “remains seriously concerned about our country’s fiscal condition and believes that fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority,” Runyon said.

Sinema’s office has not commented on the president’s budget proposal.

But, as Harkins said, Congress likely won’t complete its appropriation process this year.

Rolling resolutions are problematic because they create uncertainty and make it difficult for agencies and departments to plan well for the months ahead, and this makes them less efficient financially, Harkins said.

“The game will be in January and February and that’s really unfortunate because government doesn’t work well when we have a quarter to a half year of rolling resolutions,” Harkins said.

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