President Obama's Budget: Five Small Steps Forward, One Big Step Back

On February 2, President Obama released a budget outline for fiscal year 2016 with many proposals that reflect Americans' most cherished values and priorities, according to opinion polls. The $4-trillion proposal is only a starting point for lengthy budget negotiations in the Republican-controlled Congress; however, it does provide important details about the president's policy priorities.

Overall, this year's proposal is a step in the right direction toward reflecting Americans' priorities. Here are five steps forward the president takes in this proposal:

  • The proposal would increase education funding by 5 percent over 2015 levels, kicking off $66 billion over 10 years for preschool for all, plus additional funding of $1 billion for Title I for schools serving disadvantaged students, and $1.5 billion for early-childhood education through Head Start in 2016.
  • In response to 74 percent of Americans who say the federal government should be doing a substantial amount to combat climate change, the president would invest $7.4 billion in clean-energy technologies and $4 billion over 10 years to help states exceed planned reductions in carbon emissions. By way of example, in 2013 Massachusetts received $21 million in federal grants to develop renewable energy sources.

  • Over six years, $478 billion would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements to roads and bridges -- especially welcome as our aging infrastructure continues to cause travel difficulties across the nation -- and a good job generator to boot.
  • Two in three Americans think it should be a top priority to preserve the stability of the Social Security program, and this proposal would increase funding for Social Security by as much as $10 billion per year by closing loopholes that allow wealthy individuals to avoid paying Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes.
  • A much-promoted part of the president's proposal is his tax plan, which would increase revenue from wealthy and corporate taxpayers by closing key loopholes. The $320 billion in additional revenue would be used to fund tax breaks for middle-class and working families and pay for increased spending on defense and non-defense programs, as well as deficit reduction. That should be popular with the six in 10 Americans who think wealthy individuals and corporations don't pay their fair share in taxes.
  • President Obama's budget is not everything we might want it to be -- it also includes one very big step back: an astonishing $534 billion for the Department of Defense, which would be the largest amount ever for the Pentagon, plus an additional $51 billion in war funding. That's despite acknowledgement from top officials at the Pentagon that they could reduce waste in their budget without compromising national security. Those dollars could certainly be more efficiently spent to benefit our communities if reallocated to domestic investments here at home.

    Unfortunately, this year's budget continues the harmful framework imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 of "trading off" defense spending with domestic needs. Once again, increased defense spending has been blindly offered to balance an equal amount of increased investment in job creation and training, education, climate change, and other priorities combined, with little in the way of serious challenges to defense spending levels. Given the baseline of 54 percent of discretionary funding for defense purposes in 2015, it would take a relatively small shift from this dollar-for-dollar framework to reallocate funding for major improvements in job creation and training, education, health care, climate change or other priorities.

    For the most part, though, Obama's 2016 budget outlines policy priorities that are in line with what Americans have said we want for our nation, communities, and families and reduces deficits at the same time but bringing in new revenues from those who can afford to pay. It remains to be seen how many of our people's priorities will be preserved in the budget ultimately enacted by Congress.