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The president requested trillions in new spending that has no chance of passing a Republican House, even as he sought to reduce deficits by raising taxes on businesses and the rich.
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By Jim Tankersley
WASHINGTON — President Biden on Thursday proposed a $6.8 trillion budget that sought to increase spending on the military and a wide range of new social programs while also reducing future budget deficits, defying Republican calls to scale back government and reasserting his economic vision before an expected re-election campaign.
The budget contains some $5 trillion in proposed tax increases on high earners and corporations over a decade, much of which would offset new spending programs aimed at the middle class and the poor. It seeks to reduce budget deficits by nearly $3 trillion over that time, compared with the country’s current path.
It reaffirms Mr. Biden’s case that he can prevent the growing debt burden from weighing on the economy while expanding spending and protecting popular safety-net programs — almost entirely by asking companies and the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
But after claiming credit for a $1.7 trillion decline in the annual deficit over the past year, Mr. Biden now sees the deficit increasing again in the 2024 fiscal year, to $1.8 trillion. The jump is larger than other forecasters, like the Congressional Budget Office, have projected. It is driven by rising costs of servicing the national debt as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to curb inflation and by new programs the president is proposing that are not fully offset by tax increases in their first year.
The plan drew swift criticism from Republicans, who are locked in an economically perilous debate with Mr. Biden over the borrowing limit, which House conservatives refuse to raise unless he agrees to sharp spending cuts.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said Mr. Biden’s spending blueprint was “an unserious proposal and will be treated as such by both parties in Congress.”
The budget plan, he said, “is a road map for fiscal ruin.”
The proposals stand little chance of becoming law because Republicans won control of the House in November. Instead, Mr. Biden’s budget request was a political statement of values aimed at winning public opinion amid the debt-limit fight and a nascent 2024 campaign.
Understand Biden’s Budget Proposal
President Biden proposed a $6.8 trillion budget that sought to increase spending on the military and social programs while also reducing future budget deficits.
- Recapturing a Centrist Identity:As he unveiled his proposal, Mr. Biden made curbing the budget gap one of his centerpiece promises. The move is part of a wider shift that sees the president speaking more to the concerns of the political middle.
- Reducing Deficit: Instead of talking about hard choices and freezing spending, the president has pledged to defend popular federal programs and rely on taxing corporations and high earners. That represents a break with the past.
- A Missing Plan for Social Security: Like the president’s previous budgets, his new proposal makes no mention of the program, which he promised to shore up during his 2020 campaign.
- N.Y. Transit Projects: President Biden’s budget plan routes about $1.2 billion to two of the biggest transit projects in New York City: the Second Avenue Subway extension and new train tunnels under the Hudson River.
He unveiled the plan formally on Thursday in Philadelphia. His budget would “lift the burden off families in America,” the president said during a swing-state speech meant to contrast his economic vision with that of Republicans who have called for spending cuts.
“My budget is about investing in America and all of America,” Mr. Biden said during a roughly 50-minute speech to scores of union workers, Biden supporters and local Pennsylvania politicians. “Too many people have been left behind and treated like they’re invisible. Not anymore. I promise I see you.”
The president emphasized a message of bolstering manufacturing, an effort many of his allies believe can sway blue-collar workers who in recent years have lost faith in the Democratic Party.
The proposals in the budget showcased Mr. Biden’s early success in expanding the federal government’s role in the economy, and they reaffirmed his push for more. On Mr. Biden’s watch, its numbers show, domestic spending in areas like research and support for manufacturing has grown significantly larger as a share of the economy than was considered in the budget plans of the last Democratic administration, under President Barack Obama, when Mr. Biden was vice president.
In his first two years as president, Mr. Biden signed laws to expand and rebuild critical infrastructure like water pipes and highways, bolster U.S. manufacturing of semiconductors and other high-tech goods, and accelerate a transition from fossil fuels toward low-emission sources of energy to fight climate change. He delivered military aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia and signed a bipartisan law to increase federal medical care for military veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
He also left much of his economic agenda unfinished, a fact reflected in his budget, which renewed calls for programs that failed to pass muster when his party controlled Congress.
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“This president clearly believes the way to grow this economy is investing in the middle class and working families,” Shalanda D. Young, the director of the White House budget office, told reporters on Thursday.
The president’s budget proposed $400 billion to deliver affordable child care for parents, $150 billion for home care for older Americans and disabled people, and nearly $400 billion to make permanent expanded health coverage assistance through the Affordable Care Act. He would spend $325 billion to guarantee paid leave for workers and nearly $300 billion combined for free community college and prekindergarten for students. He is seeking $100 billion in additional assistance to lower housing costs for homeowners and renters.
Mr. Biden would reinstate for three years an expanded child tax credit, which was included in the economic aid bill he signed in 2021 but expired last year, as a means of reducing child poverty. He would make permanent a change in the credit that allows people to benefit from it in full even if they do not make enough money to owe federal income taxes. Together, the changes would cost more than $400 billion.
To help offset costs, Mr. Biden proposed a series of tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. They include a 25 percent tax aimed at billionaires (he requested a similar tax last year but at a lower rate: 20 percent). He also called for quadrupling a tax on stock buybacks and renewed his push to roll back President Donald J. Trump’s tax cuts for high earners and to raise the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent.
Mr. Biden proposed increasing and expanding a tax on Americans earning more than $400,000 as part of efforts to extend the solvency of Medicare by a quarter-century. He is also seeking new savings for the government based on more aggressive negotiation over prescription drug prices.
But for the third consecutive budget, Mr. Biden did not put forth any new initiatives to extend the solvency of Social Security — unlike during the 2020 campaign, when he sought to expand benefits and bolster the program’s trust fund by effectively raising payroll taxes on people earning more than $400,000 a year.
The budget offered few paths to compromise between Mr. Biden and Republicans on fiscal issues. One potential area of common ground was responding to what both parties call a growing military and economic threat from China. The budget proposed $9.1 billion in investments next year through the Pentagon’s “Pacific Deterrence Initiative,” which includes expenditures on new weapons systems that can be used to protect allies and defend U.S. interests in the region. It also asks for $400 million to a fund dedicated to countering the influence of the Chinese Communist Party abroad, such as exposing Chinese disinformation campaigns.
The budget also refers to various domestic investments, which the administration argues are needed to make the U.S. economy more competitive with China. That includes money for domestic research into agriculture, an area where it says China has become the largest funder of research, as well as major investments in the manufacturing of semiconductors, clean energy products and other technologies in the United States.
Still, Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and his lieutenants reiterated on Thursday that they intended to insist on significant reductions in spending before they would consider allowing the federal debt limit to be raised — even though a stalemate over the debt limit could shake the world economy and endanger the retirement savings of millions of Americans.
“We must cut wasteful government spending,” Mr. McCarthy and the other members of his leadership team said in a joint statement issued after Mr. Biden’s budget was released. “Our debt is one of the greatest threats to America, and the time to address this crisis is now.”
The budget sees the gross national debt increasing by about $18 trillion through 2033, rising to just above $50 trillion. But the administration suggests that growth will not threaten the economy. “The economic burden of debt would remain low and in line with recent historical experience over the next decade,” administration officials wrote in the proposal.
Last year’s budget painted a rosy and ultimately over-optimistic picture of the U.S. economy. The administration expected gross domestic product to grow 4.2 percent after adjusting for inflation, for instance, but it ultimately climbed by a more modest 2.1 percent.
The new budget’s projections were more muted, with a caveat. The White House sees the economy growing by only 0.6 percent after adjusting for inflation this year, a weak pace that is in line with outside expectations. It also predicted a substantial increase in the unemployment rate — to 4.3 percent, a notable rise from 3.4 percent in January. Alongside that slowdown, inflation is expected to moderate.
But officials noted that the administration completed its projections in November and that economic data had been stronger than expected since. Administration economists said in a blog post that unemployment “would likely be lower” than the official forecast in light of that.
Much of the budget’s contents were holdovers from Mr. Biden’s previous proposals. But there were also a few new plans. One of them was a tax on the energy used in creating new digital currency assets, known as cryptocurrency mining. That practice relies on large amounts of electricity and generates emissions that contribute to climate change.
Administration officials want to discourage the practice, which they say impedes the country’s energy transition. So they proposed a 30 percent tax on the electricity used in it, phased in over three years, whether that comes from an electric utility or a localized source like a home solar panel, on the theory that the energy involved would be put to better purpose in another use.
Reporting was contributed by Jeanna Smialek, Ana Swanson, Carl Hulse, Catie Edmondson, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Alan Rappeport.
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