by Kathy Crandall Robinson, WAND Senior Public Policy Director
Yesterday the President released his Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2016 (which will begin on October 1, 2015). The $4 trillion budget sets a blueprint for the Obama Administration’s budget priorities and is a work plan for federal agencies.
Congress, however, has an important role to play in casting its own budget vision and then allocating the dollars to fund the government. So in many ways the President’s budget is really an opening offer, or wish list. It is appropriate that this budget came out on Groundhog Day. Sure enough we predict more than six weeks of partisan Congressional debate on budget priorities will follow. (And we are even more confident in that than winter in New England lasting awhile longer …)
At WAND we think it’s important for everyone to engage in the budget debate. The federal budget is not just a set of numbers – it reflects our nation’s fundamental values and priorities. We’ll be sending out more analysis and updates on budget issues in the coming days, including our budget pies. We hope this will help you understand and talk about the federal budget. Then as Congress begins to debate budget priorities and appropriations for the year, we’ll help inform you so that you can weigh in and make your priorities known.
Pie for the Pentagon
For now, we’d like to note that Pentagon spending once again gets a big piece of the pie when it comes to discretionary spending. “Discretionary spending” might sound kind of frivolous, but in fact it’s the amount of money that Congress debates and appropriates each year to keep the government agencies working. (Except when Congress doesn’t do its job, then there’s a government shutdown- like in 2013.) This year the discretionary budget is about $1.155 Trillion.
Including the Department of Defense, nuclear weapons related spending (which is growing at a prodigious rate – see more analysis on this budget coming soon), and war spending (see more on the war spending slush fund below) the total discretionary defense budget function is $612 billion – once again well over half of the discretionary budget pie.
Spending over the caps: The President has made it clear that his intention is to set a budget course “reversing mindless austerity” and aiming to invest in strengthening the middle class. Thus, he is asking for funding above the Congressionally agreed to budget caps and asking Congress to do away with “sequestration” or automatic cuts that will take place if budget caps are exceeded. About half of the increase ($38 billion) is for defense spending and half ($37 billion) is spread across all the other pieces of the discretionary pie.
There are a number of great new investments that the President would like to make with this money — like community college tuition, expanded preschool, major infrastructure improvements, and more. The Administration has proposed various tax cuts and reforms to pay for the increases over the budget caps for all discretionary spending.
Generally, lawmakers in the Republican-led House and Senate are likely to be very resistant to raising the spending caps and resistant to tax proposals as well. For example, House Speaker Boehner stated:
“Today President Obama laid out a plan for more taxes, more spending, and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families. It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past.”
As the budget debate unfolds, WAND wants to make sure we don’t see the worst case scenario of more money for the Pentagon and wars and even less for all of the other investments we need.
Pie and Cake Too – War Spending Slush Fund
Lastly, let’s note that the Pentagon not only gets the biggest slice of pie, it also has another indulgence. As they say, it gets to have its cake and eat it too. Added onto the Pentagon’s budget is “the war spending slush fund,” or Overseas Contingency Operations account, at about $51 billion. This is money not subject to the caps. Plus, we’re seeing more and more things that used to be in the Pentagon’s budget migrate to this special fund — even if they have no direct connection to current combat efforts. By the way, this extra $51 billion for the Pentagon is more than some federal agencies’ entire budgets.
More Coming Soon:
WAND will be working to produce budget analysis — going deeper into issues like nuclear weapons, war spending, the brewing showdown between fiscal and defense hawks, and more. We’re also working on budget pies and tools people across the country can use to talk about the budget and the need to for better budget priorities.