First Biden budget outline calls for major boost in nondefense spending

Shannon Pettypiece and Mike Memoli and Benjy Sarlin
·3 min read

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday released the outlines of his first budget proposal to Congress, a $1.5 trillion blueprint that calls for a significant increase in nondefense spending in areas ranging from climate change to gun violence.

Biden is targeting funding increases in areas he campaigned heavily on, including a $20 billion boost for schools in low-income areas, the creation of a $6.5 billion medical research program with a focus on cancer, and a $14 billion increase in funds across the federal government to tackle climate change.

The budget also calls for a slight increase in defense spending, which would primarily be used to fund military salary increases, an administration official said.

The budget blueprint will be used as a starting point for Congress as it makes the final determination on how to appropriate funds. While what is ultimately signed into law will likely be vastly different, the proposal gives a window into where the president’s priorities lie.

The budget proposal comes as Biden seeks an additional $2 trillion from Congress to fund an infrastructure plan that would direct billions toward everything from roads and bridges to clean energy and broadband. Administration officials said the budget request was “complimentary” to that bill.

The proposal released Friday covers only discretionary spending, which accounts for about a quarter of total federal spending. The full budget, which will include nondiscretionary spending like Social Security and Medicare, as well as tax proposals, is set to be released later this spring.

Funding for areas outside of defense, like education and public health, lagged behind its historical levels under the Trump administration. The $769 billion for nondefense spending that Biden is proposing would be a 16 percent increase over 2021 enacted levels and would account for about 3.3 percent of gross domestic product — roughly the historic average over the last 30 years, an administration official said.

Biden’s proposal sets aside $753 billion for all national defense programs across the government, a 1.7 percent increase over fiscal 2021. While an increase, that’s a shift from the Trump administration, which heavily prioritized military spending. Nondefense discretionary spending has been shrinking relative to the overall economy for the past decade because of budget caps imposed by Congress a decade ago.

Some Democrats in Congress had been pressing for Biden to cut defense spending in his first budget proposal. When accounting for inflation, Biden’s $715 billion funding for the Defense Department would amount to a slight decrease in real world dollars.

The budget outline was expected last week, but administration officials said the budget process was delayed because Trump administration officials refused to fully cooperate during the transition. Biden is also without a confirmed budget director after his nominee, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration after it appeared she didn’t have the votes to get confirmed. The office is being run by acting director Shalanda Young.

Among the areas administration officials highlighted in the budget were an increase of $3.9 billion to fight the opioid epidemic; $30.4 billion for housing vouchers aimed at reducing homelessness; and a total of $8.7 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for future public health crises.

The budget would also include $2.1 billion to the Justice Department to address gun violence, representing an increase of $232 million, and $1 billion to the Justice Department for Violence Against Women Act programs, nearly double the 2021 level.

To address the root causes of migration that has caused an influx of immigrants to the southern border in recent months, Biden’s budget allocates $861 billion as a “first step toward a four-year commitment."

The Budget Control Act imposed budget limits through 2021 and included $1.2 trillion in automatically scheduled cuts to defense and nondefense discretionary spending to encourage Republicans and Democrats to reach a larger deal on taxes and spending to avert them.