U.S. President Joe Biden sent his first formal budget request to Congress on Friday afternoon, detailing a proposal to spend nearly $6 trillion in 2022 that includes significant increases in funding for foreign aid, diplomacy and climate change while providing a modest increase in Defense Department spending.
The U.S. will still have the largest military budget in the world under the proposed $715 billion Pentagon request for 2022, but the relatively small 1.7% increase drew immediate opposition from Republican defense hawks in Congress, who called the proposal “wholly inadequate.”
In a meeting with reporters Friday afternoon, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks said Pentagon leadership was confident that the budget request “positions the Department of Defense to meet the array of security challenges that we face today and in the future.”
The massive budget document was accompanied by a message from Biden saying the proposal was consistent with a promise he made to a joint session of Congress in April that “America is on the move again, and that our democracy is proving it can deliver for our people and is poised to win the competition for the 21st century.”
Throughout the more than 1,700 pages of charts, tables and text, the fiscal 2022 budget request reflects Biden’s inclination to work with allies and presents a sharp contrast with the administration of the previous president, Republican Donald Trump, who favored a go-it-alone approach in international relations.
“From the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, from the growing ambitions of China to the many global threats to democracy, successfully addressing global challenges will require working alongside and in partnership with other nations,” the document says.
“After years of neglect, the budget makes critical investments in diplomacy and development that would restore the health and morale of the nation’s foreign policy institutions, as well as America’s relationships with key partners and allies,” it says. “Diplomacy would once again be a centerpiece of American foreign policy, and America would once again be a leader on the world stage.”
While the international elements of the budget proposal are substantial, there is no mistaking the fact that the bulk of the new Democratic administration’s focus in the budget is domestic.
Biden’s plan contains funding for his two main domestic policy efforts: the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.
The spending proposals are consistently referred to as investments in the country’s future — language that tacitly acknowledges the near-term costs, which will drive spending as a percentage of gross domestic product to historically high levels and add more than $1.3 trillion to the national debt every year for a decade.
In a briefing for reporters Friday morning, Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration does not look at the rising national debt with the same level of alarm as so-called fiscal hawks who want to see an end to deficit spending.
“For the near term and the medium term, we believe the most important test of our fiscal health is real interest payments on the debt,” she said. “That's what tells us whether debt is burdening our economy and crowding out other investments.”
Young added, “This budget takes advantage of the fiscal space created by historically low interest rates to make urgently needed investments that will contribute to growth and shared prosperity.”
In Washington, reaction to the president’s budget request broke along predictable party lines. John Yarmuth, the Kentucky Democrat who chairs the House Budget Committee, called it “transformative” and said it “will ensure we emerge from these past 14 months of crisis stronger and better prepared for the future than ever before.”
He added, “Investing in the American people has always been a good bet, but with interest rates low and the need high, it’s a sure thing. As past crises have shown, doing too little will cost us far more in the end.”
Mara Rudman, executive vice president of the liberal Center for American Progress, said in a statement: “President Biden’s budget tackles the country’s most urgent challenges. Along with the priorities outlined in the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan, the policies released today will help the country recover from the pandemic and build a clean energy future, while also investing in workers and families who will create long-lasting, inclusive economic growth.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led a Republican response that thoroughly condemned the plan.
“President Biden’s proposal would drown American families in debt, deficits and inflation,” McConnell said in a statement. “Even after the massive tax hikes Democrats want to force on the American people, they’d still have the government running trillion-plus-dollar deficits every year. Democrats want to borrow and spend on a scale that America has not seen since we had to fight and win World War II. Our debt burden would break all records, eclipsing even the 1940s.”
Right-wing activist groups were similarly upset. Adam Brandon, the president of FreedomWorks, released a statement that said the budget puts the country on a “fast track to fiscal disaster.”
“The term ‘fiscally irresponsible’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Brandon said. “ 'Intentional malice’ is more appropriate. President Biden is sacrificing our nation’s future for his own political expediency, enabled by profligate spenders from all around.”
After several years in which the Trump administration sought to cut spending on diplomacy and international aid, the Biden administration is planning to reinvest in both. The budget for diplomatic engagement and foreign assistance is set to increase to $63.8 billion under Biden’s plan, an increase of $6.1 billion over last year. That includes $58.5 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, an increase of $5.4 billion over last year.
The budget request for the foreign assistance funding would increase by $4.4 billion to $43.7 billion. The bulk of that increase would go to bilateral economic assistance, on which the administration proposes to spend $28.1 billion in fiscal 2022.
Also increasing would be funding to multilateral aid programs, such as the Global Health Program managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, rising sharply by $1.45 billion to $3.5 billion, and contributions to multilateral development banks such as the International Development Association and the African Development Fund, up $1.4 billion to $3.1 billion.
Funding for international security assistance, including narcotics control, military training and peacekeeping operations, would jump $265 million to $9.2 billion in 2022.
In addition to the climate change-related elements of the president’s infrastructure plan, which includes multiple green energy initiatives, the budget would increase the U.S. commitment to the global fight against a warming planet.
The administration is proposing $36 billion more in investment in climate resilience and clean energy, backing up the president’s pledge to put the country on a path to net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
It also includes a $1.2 billion contribution to the international Green Climate Fund and $485 million for other multilateral climate change reduction programs. That comes on top of $700 million of the State Department and USAID budget directed toward international climate assistance.
The federal budget is made up of two broad components: discretionary spending, which Congress must approve each budget cycle, and mandatory spending, which is required under existing law. The former includes funding for the executive branch agencies and programs; the latter is made up of spending on programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
This year’s budget was the first in a decade in which the administration was not constrained by rules that required that discretionary defense spending and nondefense discretionary spending to rise at roughly the same rate. For that reason, Biden was able to propose a budget that increased nondefense discretionary spending by 16%, but raised defense spending only by 1.7%.
The U.S. will still have military spending at a level greater than the next 10 largest militaries combined under the proposed $715 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal 2022, but the relatively small increase drew sharp criticism from congressional conservatives.
In a joint statement, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the proposal “wholly inadequate.”
“A budget like this sends China and our other potential adversaries a bad signal — that we’re not willing to do what it takes to defend ourselves and our allies and partners,” they said in a joint statement.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday in an appearance before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense that "this budget provides us the ability to create the right mix of capabilities to defend this nation and to deter any aggressors.
“It adequately allows us to begin to prepare for the next fight,” he added. “It in fact does provide us the ability to go after the capabilities that we need.”
"It strikes an appropriate balance between preserving present readiness and future modernization," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley said at the same hearing. "It is biased towards [the] future operating environment and the readiness it's going to take in the future for this fundamental change in the character of war that we are currently undergoing."
VOA's Carla Babb contributed to this report.