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Week In Politics: Biden's Pricey Plans For The Nation


President Biden is asking for a lot of federal funding - this time, $1.5 trillion for the next fiscal year on top of the more than $2 trillion infrastructure plan he announced just last week. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: One and a half trillion dollars for the next fiscal year on top - this is pretty serious money.

ELVING: This is serious money.

SIMON: What in this budget adds up so high, especially at a time when the economy seems to be growing?

ELVING: Well, believe it or not, this is what they call the skinny budget, Scott. This is the bare-bones outline of the actual budget that will be fleshed out in the months to come. But this skinny budget includes the bottom lines for the big discretionary spending categories. And yes, these numbers are pretty impressive, mind-boggling, even - one reason being that Biden and his people want to restore a lot of what's been cut from domestic programs in the last four years under President Trump. That would include money for health and education and environmental protection. And it's important to say that these amounts are not likely to be trimmed that much, not at least by the Democrats. They're not just an opening bid to scare Republicans or to get wavering people to negotiate. The intent here is to go big and do it now because it's likely to only get harder later on.

SIMON: For example, budget line for schools being targeted for any targeting spending - that program is being double-digit increases in percentage terms for nearly everything that's not defense related. Isn't that right?

ELVING: That's right. The schools in the poorest areas are a particular beneficiary of this set of priorities. This is something that the Biden people particularly want to do. And when it comes to defense, the Pentagon is getting an increase, but it's barely equal to the rate of inflation, something just under 2%.

SIMON: Is the thought here the problems that face America are just too costly to ignore?

ELVING: That is surely the thinking, that this is not the time to shy away from these priorities in search of consensus or to build a bipartisan coalition or even to make a few, say, less committed Democrats happier. There just aren't enough Republicans showing a lot of interest in a negotiation. And there are plenty of progressives like Bernie Sanders and others who are urging the administration to go even further.

SIMON: So if the administration has concluded they can't reach an agreement with the other party, can't delay national priorities, but the president does meet with Republicans on Monday, is this just going through the motions?

ELVING: It could be called that, and some will surely call it that. But there is every reason to have this exercise nonetheless, even with little prospect of success. It's important - and I think Joe Biden believes this - to show a willingness - to show a willingness on your own part, even if you don't perceive that much love coming back at you, not that much flexibility on the other side. It is more than a gesture. It's important to make that known. Plus, you never know when there might be a few loose votes here and there. Could be pried loose, possibly with some carefully targeted spending in some of the red states and things that they might need, things that the people of those states might appreciate, even if their elected officials don't want to say so. And here again, the Biden folks are saying the days of negotiating the amounts down before the budget is even proposed - those days are gone.

SIMON: President Biden is very much a man of the U.S. Congress. In fact, remember when that was people running against him in the primary used to criticize him about being part of an old-school way of getting things done. And then he unveils this really stunning plan. Does he seem to understand that he has to be responsive when events dictate - so, for example, his executive orders on guns this past week?

ELVING: Yes, that's right. And that's a good example. Political capital gets devalued pretty quickly if you don't use it. And when you've had some successes like the pandemic relief bill, the vaccination progress we've seen, that can build momentum for your next proposal, such as the infrastructure and jobs plan or the executive orders on guns, like the ban on guns assembled from kits that don't have serial numbers. That's a small step, but it is a step. So this is the Joe Biden who has learned lessons from the big Democratic movers and shakers of the 20th century like old FDR and LBJ.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, who's in that same class, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
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