Biden asks Congress to boost non-defence funding to $769bn

US President Joe Biden is proposing to increase funding for non-defence government programmes by 16 per cent to $769bn, including large bumps in spending for healthcare, education and the fight against climate change. 

The request sent to Congress on Friday will set the stage for months of budget negotiations on Capitol Hill. In it, the White House said it wanted to sharply increase spending for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for future pandemics, while massively raising funding to tackle the opioid crisis and support schools in areas hit by high-poverty. 

The Biden administration is also looking for a 12 per cent increase to $63.5bn in funding for the state department and other international programmes, as it tries to restore US global leadership after Donald Trump’s unilateralism. 

Within that category, Biden wants Congress to approve $1.2bn in funding for the Green Climate Fund, a multilateral institution that provides grants and loans to climate projects in developing countries, partially fulfilling the US’s original $3bn pledge to the GCF. The US delivered $1bn of that under Barack Obama and the rest was withheld under Trump.

As it increases spending on non-defence agencies, Biden is seeking a much smaller 1.7 per cent increase in funding to $753bn for the Pentagon and other defence programmes, after large rises enacted in the previous administration.

The proposal released by the White House is not Biden’s full budget proposal, since it does not contain any requests for spending on government programmes such as Medicare and Social Security, nor does it include tax proposals that would affect government revenues. These will be released later in the year.

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But it still offers the latest indication of Biden’s desire to aggressively deploy government funds to boost the economy and deliver on his 2020 campaign agenda. His $1.9tn stimulus bill has already been enacted and the president has put forward another plan for $2tn in long-term investments.

As it plans a series of tax increases on the wealthy and large companies to fund its economic agenda, the White House is also proposing a 10.4 per cent — or $1.2bn — increase in the Internal Revenue Service budget to tighten enforcement.

Shalanda Young, the acting White House budget director, said the preliminary budget plan would create “a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities” to build a “better, stronger, more secure, more inclusive America.”

The White House said its funding proposal would bring non-defence discretionary spending to 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product, roughly equal to the average over the past 30 years. 

The new funding for the Global Climate Fund is a vote of confidence in the $17.8bn UN-backed multilateral institution, which has struggled to address governance concerns raised by donor countries in the past. Last year it faced a wave of misconduct complaints from staff.

The new grant to GCF will bring the US’s total support for the group to $2.2bn, placing it among the top donors to the institution but still behind countries such as the UK ($3bn), Japan ($3bn) and Germany ($2.7bn).

The budget also includes $485m support for “other multilateral climate initiatives”, of which at least $100m is set to go towards projects that help with adaptation to climate impacts.

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The issue of climate finance is set to be a source of tension at the UN COP26 climate talks later this year. Developing countries say rich nations have so far failed to meet the previously agreed target of $100bn in climate assistance by 2020.



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