Historically, presidential budget requests have been overhauled by Congress, the government branch responsible for managing the country’s purse strings, according to Joshua Gotbaum, a Brookings Institution guest economics scholar.
Yet, with the rise of hyperpartisanship, the Carter and Clinton administrations alumnus said it is now commonplace for the opposition party to declare presidential budgets “dead on arrival.” End-of-fiscal-year funding fights often leave the status quo in place for months after that — or longer.
“The politics of all this are complicated because some of both Democrats and Republicans would like for some provisions to be bipartisan,” Gotbaum told the Washington Examiner. “However, it’s not at all clear that there are 60 votes in the Senate for very much of the spending, and it’s clear that there are not 10 Republican votes for tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.”
A workaround for Democrats is the reconciliation process, Gotbaum said. That is the streamlined procedure by which Democrats, because they control both the House and Senate, could bundle together controversial budget-related measures that can clear the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.
On cue, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Budget Committee’s top Republican, on Friday described Biden’s budget as “dead on arrival — just like all other presidential budgets.”
“It is insanely expensive. It dramatically increases non-defense spending and taxes. Over time it will result in a weakened Department of Defense,” he wrote. “There will be serious discussions about government funding. But the Biden budget isn’t serious and it won’t be a part of those discussions.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also slammed Biden’s budget as “the most reckless and irresponsible budget proposal in my lifetime” for raising taxes, contributing to inflation, exacerbating debt, and making the country less safe.
“But it does restore $123.5 million in taxpayer funding for the World Health Organization, which has been complicit in covering up China’s COVID lies and contributed to a series of major missteps that bungled the global pandemic response,” he wrote. “At the same time, it breaks with decades of settled precedent by calling for direct taxpayer-funded abortion.”
With Biden and Republicans trying to broker a traditional infrastructure deal, Gotbaum predicted some GOP members would take credit for the president’s infrastructure ideas, such as enhanced child tax credits and free pre-K and community college, should they make it through the congressional meat grinder. Why? Those proposals poll well.
Jason Fichtner, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s vice president and chief economist, declined to be flippant and dismiss Biden’s budget as being “dead on arrival” in its entirety. He foresaw proposed additional spending on certain federal agencies, an investment in the Internal Revenue Service, and resources earmarked for Native American health issues attracting support from both sides of the political aisle.
Yet Fichtner, an ex-Social Security Administration official for former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, admitted he was floored by the lack of specificity regarding healthcare and Social Security spending. In particular, he pointed to language concerning a possible public insurance option, lowering prescription drug prices, decreasing the Medicare eligibility age, and expanding Medicare to incorporate dental and vision coverage.
“President Trump, at least he had some rough account of some of the plans he wanted to do. You could argue whether or not the numbers were accurate,” he said. “Maybe that’s why it’s being released on a Friday before Memorial Day. There’s just not enough reality here in the budget. It’s very aspirational.”
For Fichtner, Biden’s budget is not “helpful” for Congress to use as a blueprint for a measure that could be approved via regular order, meaning with a 60-vote Senate threshold, especially when Capitol Hill is contending with infrastructure negotiations, debt ceiling talks, and the potential extension of coronavirus relief benefits before Sept. 30.
The other problem experts see with Biden’s budget is its approach to the national debt. Biden’s $6 trillion framework forecasts a $1.8 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2022. It projects, too, a steady escalation in spending to $8.2 trillion in 2031 for a $1.6 trillion deficit.
“There is not even a hint, a whisper, or a care of trying to put the United States back on some sort of fiscal path to sanity,” Fitchner said.