Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, April 22, 2021

Biden’s Big Increase in Nondefense Discretionary Spending Is Notable

The Biden Administration’s much anticipated outline of the budget for fiscal year (FY) 2022 was released on April 9. It is the skinniest budget outline in history, with few details on programs and a top line of $1.5 trillion in discretionary funding – an increase of more than 8 percent or $118 billion from FY 2021 base discretionary funding. This includes a 16 percent boost in base non-defense discretionary spending from $664 billion this year to $769 billion next year according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. However, the defense portion received a 1.7 percent increase which is under inflation and attracted negative attention. There is also an unprecedented focus on climate change, racial equity, and civil rights throughout the budget.

This outline is already garnering opposition especially with defense discretionary funding basically flat. Now the political maneuvering begins in earnest under the shadow of appropriations hearings taking place; an expiring debt limit on August 1 (always a difficult vote to set how much the government can be indebted); and a forthcoming human infrastructure proposal from the President, the American Families Plan, that will focus on items such as child- and eldercare and education. Whether appropriations bills can be completed for FY 2022 has become less realistic with more speculation that there will be a continuing resolution to keep the government running when the new FY begins on October 1, 2021.

In the current budget outline, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was provided $51 billion, including $6.5 billion for the President’s new health research initiative, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Health (ARPA-H). ARPA-H will focus on cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease to drive transformational innovation in health research and speed application and implementation of health breakthroughs such as new antibiotics or in areas that the private sector does not deem profitable enough for investment. NIH falls under the larger umbrella of the President’s request for $131.7 billion for Health and Human Services, a 23.5 percent increase over the FY 2021 enacted level.

For the National Science Foundation, there is $10.2 billion, a $1.7 billion or 20 percent increase from the FY 2021 enacted level. Another area of importance in research is the discretionary request of $882 million for medical and prosthetic research under the Veterans Administration (VA) – including the largest increase in recent history – to advance VA’s understanding of traumatic brain injury, the effects of toxic exposure on long-term health outcomes, and the needs of disabled veterans.

In the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, there is $7.4 billion, an increase of more than $400 million over the FY 2021 level, in order to better understand the changing climate, and identify and develop novel materials and concepts for clean energy technologies of the future. This funding level will also advance artificial intelligence and computing to enhance prediction and decision making across numerous environmental and scientific challenges and support the National Laboratory network with cutting-edge scientific facilities.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm also outlined that there is an investment in Minority-Serving Institutions to create and enhance research funding opportunities and invest in infrastructure such as laboratory facilities and information technology upgrades for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). New grant awards, including a research center focused on climate, would expand research capacity and create new opportunities at HBCUs and other MSIs. There is a total of $1 billion for a new and the existing Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, of which $700 million is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy.

Lastly, for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the discretionary request includes $27.8 billion, a $3.8 billion or 16 percent increase from the 2021 enacted level. This should allow American farmers to leverage new technologies to compete in world markets, all while protecting America’s soil and water. Specifically for USDA’s research, education, and outreach programs there is $4 billion, or $647 million above the 2021 enacted level. The White House did not provide any specific information regarding the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative. However, an anticipated full budget with additional details should be out in May.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) support the Biden request, with Leahy saying the investments proposed are “necessary and urgent.” He attributes decreasing discretionary spending due to the Budget Control Act of 2011 as having had devastating consequences on the nation’s unpreparedness for the COVID pandemic. DeLauro said it reverses decades of disinvestment by prioritizing initiatives that will help working families and the vulnerable, noting the budget’s support for schools, childcare, and mental and maternal health. She also emphasized the need to rebuild the public health infrastructure with $8.7 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $10.7 billion for opioid prevention and treatment.