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Washington Politics: Budget, Budget, Who’s Got The Budget?


....And what, exactly, is taking so long?


(Washington DC)April 8, 2021)Apologies to Andy Williams, but when you’re a budget nerd “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is when the President’s Budget Request is released.


The initial proposals from the Biden administration were supposed to already be here. We were told it was coming.

But we’re still waiting.

Reportedly – pant, pant – it’s coming out tomorrow. On Friday, when no one pays attention (but we will). We’re used to new presidential administrations taking a bit longer to put out its “real” budget with all the tables and details that we delve into and analyze and write about. But we usually have a “blue print” or an “outline” or a “skinny budget” by now.

There’s a lot of speculation in Washington about why we still don’t have the deets. Is it that the revenue proposals aren’t ready because the American Rescue Plan and the proposed payfors for the infrastructure package have thrown everything into the air like a very expensive game of Fifty-Two Pickup? Is it that Republicans and pro-defense Democrats in Congress are exerting pressure to exceed a “flat” Pentagon budget? Is it because of the delays caused by an extended confirmation fight over the Director of Management and Budget?

Who knows?

While we wait, we’d like to re-up some of the budget proposals (including how to present that budget) we made in our “A 4.6 Plan for 46” earlier this year to jump start whatever is holding up this process. To wit:

  • F-35 Aircraft: Use the recently announced delay of the start of full rate production to reassess inventory needs for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. This is the most expensive procurement program in the history of the Pentagon. Take the necessary time to get this right.
  • Nuclear Triad: Stop the modernization of the land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. This is the least survivable leg of the triad and the contract is still in its early days. Yes, it will cost the government some money to terminate the contract. But, what’s the nuclear strategy that requires three methods of delivering nuclear weapons?
  • Budget at Glance: Develop an understandable and relatively simple Citizens Budget as done by other countries and as recommended by the International Budget Partnership. This is a non-technical, objective document released with the overall budget proposal. It would consist of simple and effective infographics, charts, and tables, such as a “Budget at a Glance” table showing revenue, spending, the budget balance, public debt, and other important information for the proposed budget and recent years. The existing summary tables are buried and not useful to the average citizen, and the budget narrative is little more than a press release by agency about what that particular president is trying to achieve. Budgets need to be more accessible. In addition, an actual evaluation of previous budget performance would be extremely useful.
  • Climate and bioenergy: Forgo extension of tax breaks and subsidies – including those for biomass and biofuels – that increase climate risks instead of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, reign in past budget temptations to propose more special interest handouts for mature bioenergy industries, including hundreds of millions of dollars for biofuels infrastructure projectsdespite Congressional prohibitions. The practice of misusing USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) authority and wasting taxpayer dollars subsequently landed former (and now current) USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a Golden Fleece award in 2015.
  • DNR the CCC: Speaking of the CCC, federal farm policy is supposed to be made through the federal farm bill. In the last few years both the Trump Administration and Congress have increasingly set farm policy through different channels. Congress through repeated “emergency” supplementals and the Trump Administration by using the CCC as a political slush fund to side-step Congress to spend $28 billion buying the goodwill of farmers harmed by Trump’s trade war. Now some special interests and elements in the administration are advocating President Biden follow former President Trump’s lead and tap the CCC to pursue a carbon bank. The Biden Administration needs to commit to making farm policy through farm bills, not by fiat.
  • Let go of the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program: Proponents claim the program should be revived for clean energy but it’s been fundamentally flawed from the start. Rescind any remaining authority and work on a system that would protect taxpayers’ interest and get better projects off the ground by requiring more skin in the game. The last thing taxpayers need is to put up another $12 billion for a badly managed nuclear construction project
  • Do NOT fund the Carbon Free Power Project: A Utah utility conglomerate (UAMPS) wants to build small modular reactors that have already enjoyed lavish government support. Months ago, DOE proposed heaping on another $1.4 billion for the project. Don’t make the same mistake twice; let SMRs sink or swim on their own. 
  • End Royalty Giveaways: Count on revenue from hardrock mining royalties. We collect $0 when private companies sell precious metals removed from federal lands. While Congress needs to replace the General Mining Law of 1872 with a leasing system, the President’s Budget can call for a royalty now and include revenues from hardrock mining, and DOI can start collecting data and making it clear it’s a priority.  

These recommendations could save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, at least. We’ll be parsing through the budget documents to see which ones the Biden Administration adopted. Recent reporting tells us our budget day activities (coffee, doughnuts…yum!) will start tomorrow. Be sure to follow along as we find things to write about in our rolling analysis.

But wait – there’s more. This won’t be the end of the budgetpalooza. In fact, it isn’t even the end of the beginning. While this will be the opening charge to lawmakers to start crafting their take on the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, in a few months a more detailed proposal with some meat on the bones, lots of tables and charts (yay!) will be revealed. Then we’ll really have the deets for ya! Stay tuned!