The president's budget details his ambitious (and costly) plans to invest in infrastructure and the social safety net — the likes of which the country hasn't seen in decades.



There is a quote you often hear from President Biden - "show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." Well, today we got to see what the Biden administration values with the proposed $6 trillion budget for the next fiscal year. It's the biggest budget in recent history, and it reflects the president's ambition to overhaul the U.S. economy. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is here with the details. And Asma, let's start with those numbers. What's in this proposal?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: A lot, I will say. You know, the scope of this should not be overlooked. This is a budget that is calling for wartime-like investments - $6 trillion for this first fiscal year. That would climb to $8.2 trillion by 2031. And it would mean running up deficits of at least $1.3 trillion a year for the next decade. I mean, these are just really massive numbers.

And there's essentially no new major policy initiative in the budget. It really just aggregates some of the major plans we've already heard from the White House. These are plans to create more jobs, improve infrastructure and offer things like universal preschool. The White House says its new plans would be fully paid for with additional taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And this budget does show that tax revenue would nearly double in the next decade.

The administration is defending these eye-popping numbers as a sort of necessary fix after decades of underinvestment. The added spending, it says, will help build a more productive economy in the long run, and they're doing it, they say, when interest rates are really low. Here's acting budget director Shalanda Young.


SHALANDA YOUNG: This president is putting forth a historic, staggering agenda that changes the long-term view of how this country invests in its infrastructure and brings its competitiveness with those like China back to where we should be, which is first in the world.

CORNISH: You know, Asma, I remember covering the Biden-Obama administration, and government spending was an enormous political issue. Now we're talking about trillions. What's going on?

KHALID: Yeah. You know, I will say we're talking about a lot of money in part just not because of what Biden is introducing, but about where the federal government is at this point. The Congressional Budget Office had actually predicted last year that, overall, the federal debt was expected to reach record levels, that it would surpass the size of the entire U.S. economy, which is just a kind of, you know, earthshattering stat to think about. And they said that this was in part because of the pandemic and all the COVID relief aid.

So the White House is inheriting this fiscal situation that's rough. And some fiscal hawks do commend the administration for at least attempting to pay for its new initiatives, but they're worried that they are still kind of ignoring the current reality. I spoke to Maya MacGuineas before the budget was officially released. She's the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

MAYA MACGUINEAS: They want to shift around their budget. That's great. But you have to do that within the context of not having a debt that's growing faster than your economy to unprecedented levels.

CORNISH: This is a White House proposal. Of course, Congress is in charge of spending. So what's the outlook?

KHALID: Yeah, I mean, this is essentially just a statement of where the administration's priorities are. But as you say, this all depends on what Congress can pass, and we've already seen how divided they are just around infrastructure negotiations. This budget was cheered by many progressives. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says that it's the most significant agenda for working families in the modern history of the country. Of course, Republicans, as could be expected, not big fans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that it would drown American families in debt, deficits and inflation.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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