Please, someone convince me that the headline for this entry is wrong. I’d like nothing more than to conclude that Joe Biden is preparing to fight like hell for working people as we approach the critical midterm elections and the 2023 federal fiscal year. But the budgetary facts say otherwise.
True enough, presidential budgets are frequently derided as largely inconsequential, given that appropriations are the constitutional domain of Congress (and in particular the House of Representatives). They are, however, “aspirational,” reflective of presidential priorities.
So what does President Biden – early on described as quite possibly America’s “next FDR” by hopeful progressives – aspire to most? His explicit statement of priorities pretty much says it all: “First, fiscal responsibility. Second, safety and security. And thirdly, investments needed to build a better America.” Indeed, there is (third-priority) lip service to social spending for child care, universal preschool, expanded health care, and addressing the climate crisis. But the proposed fiscal commitments fall far short of what’s needed. $48 billion for the Department of Energy and less than $12 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, doesn’t even scratch the surface of what an effective response to the climate catastrophe calls for.
Leave aside that Biden’s budget, like most political budgets, rests on a foundation of rosy assumptions – the economy will grow robustly, rising inflation will rapidly ebb, and the pandemic will continue to ease. Unless the midterms miraculously deliver a new progressive majority in both chambers of Congress, these echoes of the Build Back Better agenda – already once subverted by “centrist” Democrats – have no better chance of passing the second time around. Likewise the president’s seemingly bold proposals to tax billionaires’ income at a rate of 20% (I pay a higher tax rate than that, and probably so do you), and to raise the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28%. The legalized bribery system known as campaign contributions ensures that serious new taxes on the wealthy will never be imposed.
The real winners in the Biden budget are the military-industrial-Congressional complex and law enforcement at all levels. Of the total $1.58 trillion in proposed spending, $813 billion – a $31 billion increase – is for the military; most of the new spending is to “modernize” an array of weaponry, including the nuclear arsenal. A lesser $769 billion is allocated for non-military spending (suggesting that it’s now factually correct to refer to the U.S. as a “garrison state,” more devoted to making war than to addressing all other needs combined), including significant funding increases for the FBI, the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and various programs to fund local and state police forces. (Clearly, Biden means to drive a stake through the heart of the George Floyd Rebellion call to “defund the police”: “The answer is to defund our police departments,” he insists. “It’s to fund our police and give them all the tools they need….”)
More war. More surveillance and policing. Fewer social welfare programs and support for struggling working people. Not a pretty picture.