Biden budget seeks more for schools, health care and housing

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President Joe Biden, accompanied by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, right, speaks as he gets his weekly economic briefing in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, April 9, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden released a $1.5 trillion wish list for his first federal budget, asking for substantial gains for Democratic priorities including education, health care, housing and environmental protection.

The request by the White House budget office Friday for an 8.4% increase in agency operating budgets spells out Biden’s top priorities as Congress weighs its spending plans for next year. It’s the first financial outline of the Democrats’ broader ambitions since the expiration of a 2011 law that capped congressional spending.

“I’m hoping it’ll have some bipartisan support across the board," Biden said before an Oval Office meeting with his economics team, though prominent Senate Republicans immediately complained the plan would shortchange the military and national security in boosting domestic programs.

Bipartisanship in 2011 also restricted Democrats' ambitions, a problem they’re now trying to address. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was “inheriting a legacy of chronic underinvestment” because of the caps.

“The president is focused on reversing this trend and reinvesting in the foundations of our strength,” she told reporters at a briefing.

At stake is “discretionary spending,” roughly one-third of the huge federal budget that is passed by Congress each year, funding the military, domestic Cabinet department operations, foreign policy and homeland security. The rest of the budget involves so-called mandatory programs with locked-in spending, chiefly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The Biden request provides a significantly smaller 1.6% increase for the $700 billion-plus Pentagon budget than for domestic accounts. Homeland security accounts would basically be frozen, reflecting opposition among Democratic progressives to immigration security forces.

Senate Republicans were quick to criticize the modest proposed increase for defense, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, Florida's Marco Rubio, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Alabama's Richard Shelby releasing a joint statement.