Biden budget blueprint features paid family leave for all, tax hikes on rich
President Joe Biden speaks about his 2024 budget proposal at the Finishing Trades Institute, Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Philadelphia, as workers listen in enthusiastically. | Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON—Budget blueprints are political documents, as Joe Biden said several years ago. So he issued his $1.7 trillion political document on March 9, featuring paid family leave for all and tax hikes on the rich. Then Biden dared the House’s ruling Republicans to respond.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., hasn’t yet. But in bits and pieces, the radical right House Freedom Caucus—the tail that wags the Republican dog—has. It wants to cut Medicare, school lunches, and maybe Social Security payments, too.

“My colleagues across the aisle are hiding their budget from the American people,” says progressive Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. “Why? Because they don’t want to admit they plan to increase taxes on families, slash Social Security and Medicare, and hand out tax breaks to the extremely wealthy and well-connected.

“While Democrats are fighting against tax increases on working families, House Republicans want to raise taxes on nearly every American through their proposed 30% national sales tax,” he continued. “I don’t blame them for keeping these proposals under wraps. Their ideas are harmful and unpopular.”

Biden’s budget represents the opening salvo in what promises to be a protracted fiscal war, also including raising the U.S. debt ceiling, between the Democratic president and the Republicans and their corporate backers.

With its provisions for more spending on labor law enforcement, Biden drew union praise. With its additional spending to combat climate change and its proposals not just to raise taxes on the rich and corporations but to roll back Trump-era tax cuts for those groups, he picked up progressive backing, too.

“No billionaire should ever pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter,” Biden said in his cover letter to Congress. “This budget also proposes quadrupling the tax on corporate stock buybacks, so companies invest more in production to improve quality and lower prices, and less in buybacks that only benefit shareholders and CEOs.”

Whether and where he’ll pick up backing on Capitol Hill for bits and pieces of his budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1—if not the whole thing—is uncertain. After all, even his Democratic allies are sure to suggest changes. And, as the old apocryphal adage says, “The president proposes, Congress disposes.” Here are some details of what Biden proposes:

  • The second straight big increase, 25%, for the National Labor Relations Board, to $376 million. Congress increased NLRB’s funding by $25 million, to $299 million, for this fiscal year, the labor enforcement agency’s first hike since 2014.

“While the bump in our FY23 funding was essential in averting furloughs, the NLRB is still drastically underfunded,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo told Harvard’s OnLabor blog.

  • Higher fines for breaking labor laws, although the increases in fines for unfair labor practices—labor law-breaking—are unspecified. In the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, labor’s top legislative priority, sponsoring Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., proposes a $50,000 fine for a first offense and $100,000 per crime for repeat offenders.
  • $431 million more for the Labor Department’s enforcement agencies, notably the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Wage and Hour Division, which pursues firms who short their workers on minimum wages and overtime pay. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which enforces anti-discrimination laws, gets a 5.7% hike, to $431 million.

The increases in enforcement money drew praise from Electrical Workers President Kenneth Cooper, the first union leader to comment on Biden’s blueprint—and his budget overall.

“We’re grateful President Biden is proposing a $1.5 billion increase to the Labor Department’s funding. This will boost critical worker protection agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, helping them better protect American workers,” said Cooper.

The overall hike would also add more money to combat child labor and to fight bosses’ misclassification of workers as “independent contractors,” he noted. Misclassification is rife among unscrupulous cost-cutting non-union construction companies.

Misclassified workers are unprotected by labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act, the minimum wage and overtime pay law, jobless benefits, and workers comp. No NLRA protection means they can’t organize, either.

  • Tax hikes on the rich and corporations, rollback of the Trump-GOP $1.7 trillion tax cut of 2017, and an end to special tax breaks for petrochemical giants.

“By ensuring that the wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share of taxes, President Biden’s plan will invest in middle-class Americans and still reduce the deficit by $3 trillion,” said Cooper.  “The Biden budget will make sure that billionaires pay at least a 25% income tax rate,” Americans for Tax Fairness Legislative Director Sarah Christopherson e-mailed supporters.

“Biden included the billionaire minimum income tax in his budget, which would raise nearly $440 billion over 10 years, just from households worth over $100 million.”

  • Restoring and expanding the full Child Care Tax Credit. Congress let a prior expansion, enacted as an anti-coronavirus-depression law, expire at the end of 2021. It lifted 40% of poor children out of that agony.
  • Paid family and medical leave for all, not just the unpaid leave which many workers now can’t afford to take. Biden’s budget also would add $2.2 billion more for Title I schools which serve underprivileged kids and $368 million to fund wraparound services in schools, a longtime Teachers (AFT) cause.

The wraparound money would let “schools be community hubs where students and families can access educational services as well as healthcare, career and language supports, and desperately needed mental health supports,” AFT President Randi Weingarten stated.

  • Weingarten also lauded Biden’s proposed grants to institutions that train teachers—because there’s a national teachers shortage—and the budget’s $22 billion increase for early childhood and education programs. That extra money, if approved, will ensure “children can receive quality care and instruction without their parents worrying about how they can afford it,” she said. Head Start would get $13 billion more, much of it to increase teacher and staff pay.

The one big progressive dissent from Biden’s budget blueprint was opposing his record $886 billion request—more than half his overall spending plan—for the military. And only $800 million of that is for aid to Ukraine, said 59 peace groups, led by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Public Citizen. Other Ukraine aid, they add, will come in “supplemental” money requests.

Instead, the coalition advocated cutting the Pentagon budget by $100 billion, as proposed in a bill by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a Painter and a former Progressive Caucus co-chair.

“We reject pouring our dollars into outdated ships, malfunctioning planes, or record-breaking contractor CEO salaries while everyday people remain hungry, unhoused, in need of adequate healthcare, or seeking a living wage,” the coalition said.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.