By Phil Mattingly, Chief White House correspondent
The budget blueprint President Joe Biden revealed on Thursday is designed lay out a clear, if aspirational, policy vision for the year ahead.
To be clear, Biden’s budget proposal as written is dead on arrival in Capitol Hill. But as a proposal it lays down a strategic marker that White House officials plan to put at the center of the high-stakes policy and political battles looming over Washington.
“There’s a vision here and there’s a contrast,” Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said in an interview with CNN. “You can be fiscally responsible and invest in the American people, or you can pull the rug out from people by going after programs that people absolutely need.”
Biden, over the course of the last several weeks, has repeatedly telegraphed how important he and his top advisers view his 2024 budget to be in creating a favorable environment for the fights ahead.
Advisers stress that the budget, which significantly overlaps with past Biden policy proposals from his first two years, reflects his fiscal vision with significant investments in manufacturing, climate, education, paid leave and health care, all paired with a menu of tax increases on corporations and wealthier Americans.
The proposal also includes capping the price of insulin at $35 a month for all Americans, according to administration officials.
But each of the key pillars of Biden’s proposal also serve as a carefully constructed contrast with Republicans ahead of near-term fiscal battles and an implicit roadmap for a reelection campaign policy platform if — or in the view of top advisers, when — Biden decides to run.
The decision to unveil his budget in remarks during his 20th visit in his presidential capacity to the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania is hardly subtle.
The nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction, driven primarily by the tax proposals, aims to undercut GOP attacks on spending and debt. The budget proposes a minimum tax on the nation’s billionaires, with a 25% minimum tax on the wealthiest 0.01% of people, per the White House. It sets the corporate tax rate at 28%, and further proposes reforms to the international tax system. It proposes quadrupling stock buybacks tax from one to four percent. It repeals Trump-era tax cuts, “restoring the top tax rate of 39.6% for single filers making more than $400,000 a year and married couples making more than $450,000 per year.”
And it cuts what the White House describes as “wasteful spending on Big Pharma, Big Oil, and other special interests.” It will eliminate tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, and eliminate the “like-kind exchange” loophole tax subsidy for real estate investors. Among other tax provisions, it would eliminate a tax subsidy for crypto currency.
Medicare and Social Security proposals will serve as a direct challenge to past Republican proposals to overhaul or cut benefits, building off of Biden’s unscripted and off-the-cuff back-and-forth with GOP lawmakers in the middle of his State of the Union address last month.
Biden’s budget proposal includes an expanded child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child over six years old, and to $3,600 for children under 6. And it calls on Congress to make the Earned Income Tax Credit expansion for childless workers permanent.
It would make health insurance premium tax credits, at an average of $800 per year, permanent, strengthen Medicare’s prescription drug price negotiation power and would limit Medicare Part D cost-sharing for high-value generic drugs used for certain chronic conditions.
It would also boost Medicaid home and community-based services and expands the health care workforce. It gives states the ability to increase child care options and lowers costs for child care. It includes funding and tax incentives for affordable housing, as well as funding for a First-Generation Down Payment Assistance Program, and expands the Housing Choice Voucher program. It increases the maximum Pell Grant by $500 and expands free community college. It also has funding to lower energy and water costs, and funding to boost school nutrition programs.
A marker for future fights
There’s a reason the age-old adage that “the president proposes, Congress disposes” is muttered across Capitol Hill throughout the unofficial Washington nerd holiday that is “Budget Day.”
It’s a reality every White House grapples with, regardless of who controls the two chambers of Congress. It’s even more acute for Biden this fiscal year, as he confronts a new era of divided government.
Republicans have long opposed Biden’s tax increases and have made clear that position will be maintained with his new proposals. They’ve also pledged steep spending cuts to address the soaring national debt.
“We can no longer ignore the major problem that we have: The size of our debt,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters after a bipartisan briefing from the Congressional Budget Office on the budget and the US economy. “We promised we would change course.”
The reality of the new House Republican majority only serves to elevate the importance of the Biden’s budget proposal at a critical moment for a White House that has methodically mapped out the months leading to a summer debt ceiling deadline.
McCarthy noted pointedly that Biden hasn’t reached out since their initial Oval Office meeting to discuss the next steps in securing a resolution on the debt limit.
“That’s a month wasted,” McCarthy told reporters. “The sooner we get together, the better off America will be.”
Biden has been unequivocal that there will be no negotiations or concessions to raise the debt limit, which Republicans helped increase three times under former President Donald Trump.
“Let’s be real clear about one thing: There is no actual crisis here,” Biden said of the debt limit while speaking to House Democrats last week. “This is entirely a crisis of their making, if it occurs.”
Biden’s silence toward McCarthy isn’t an accident.
Biden started remarks in Philadelphia saying he is ready to meet with McCarthy on the budget “any time” as soon as House Republicans detailed their own proposal. Biden also went after “MAGA Republicans” numerous times throughout the almost hour-long speech.
“I’m ready to meet with the speaker any time, even tomorrow, if he has his budget. Lay it down, tell me what you want to do. I’ll show you what I want to do,” Biden said.
House GOP up next
White House officials are skeptical Republicans can produce their own proposal given the ideological divides and chaotic nature laid bare in their first months in the majority. Biden will spend the months ahead repeatedly pointing to his budget and using it as his policy and political baseline.
At the same time, he will chide Republicans every day they don’t have their own to add to the debate — while citing past proposals that suggest cuts to programs like Medicare, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act.
House Republicans have rejected that skepticism and pledged to produce a budget in the months ahead. McCarthy said the delay in Biden’s budget contributed to a delay in the House Republican proposal.
But as Republicans work through what they have said would be deep spending cuts that would feature in any budget proposal even as they’ve pledged to keep Medicare and Social Security changes off the table, White House officials are laying the groundwork to launch their own attacks.
They see political vulnerability among freshman Republicans hailing from districts Biden won in 2020 and political pressure that will ramp up for more moderate members of the Republican conference.
Agencies across the federal government — at the request of Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel — have been asked to detail the impact of steep discretionary spending cuts on their budgets.
That information will be ready to deploy by congressional Democrats and the administration.
“It would be interesting to see what they want to cut and what their numbers add up to,” Biden said last week. “Are they going to cut Medicaid? Are they going to cut the Affordable Care Act? Are they going to cut Medicare or veterans benefits? Aid to rural communities?”
Whether those answers create the political cracks White House officials are targeting remains an open question. Biden’s position, however, will be defined.
“What we want to make clear is you can do investment in American people, childcare, paid leave, food assistance, health care, all while bringing down the deficit,” Young, who is running Biden’s budget process for a third year, said in the interview. “But you do have to ask the wealthy in this country to pay their fair share.”
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CNN’s MJ Lee and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.