CHN: The President’s FY 2014 Budget: Important Initiatives Face Uphill Battle

President Obama released his FY 2014 budget on April 10 in a Rose Garden speech whose audience included many who strongly support one of the budget’s key initiatives:  Preschool for All four-year olds and other investments in the development of the youngest children.   The historic preschool initiative would be paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax.  But the chasm of difference between the extreme cuts in the House budget and the Senate’s and President’s combination of revenues and cuts underscore the difficulty of agreeing upon worthy new initiatives.
The Politics.  The President’s budget includes $166 billion in job creation initiatives, investing in infrastructure improvements, clean energy, and a comprehensive re-building approach in 20 poor communities.  It commits modest funding towards all levels of education in addition to the early childhood initiative.  But by using the budget as a platform to put forward a deficit reduction offer already made to Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and rejected by him, it makes cuts in Social Security strongly opposed by most Democrats and raises less revenue than the Senate budget plan.  As a gambit to demonstrate his willingness to compromise and to smoke out Republican unwillingness, the budget seems to have worked.  Pundits praised the elements of compromise and Republicans scrambled away from previous support for the Social Security change in order to stay firmly opposed to the President.  (Last December, Bloomberg News reported that Speaker Boehner was “pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes…”  Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) was looking for higher Medicare premiums for upper-income retirees, raising the age to become eligible for Medicare, and reducing Social Security benefits by shrinking the adjustment for inflation (the “chained CPI”) in order to consider new revenue last winter.)  But although the President included the reduced inflation adjustment and higher Medicare payments for upper-income retirees, his budget was rejected out of hand by the Republican leaders.

The President has said that he will only agree to cut Social Security as part of an overall deal that increases revenues and includes some economic investments.  But many strong advocates for Social Security and other vital safety net programs strongly oppose the Social Security cut under any circumstances.  Even those who could imagine it as part of a plan with healthy doses of revenue and job creation are worried now that the Social Security cut will find its way into a far less helpful budget plan.

The Math.  The President proposes $3.78 trillion in spending and $3.03 trillion in receipts for FY 2014, leaving a deficit of $744 billion, down from a deficit of $973 billion this year.  The deficit will decline from 6 percent of GDP now, to 4 percent in FY 2014, and down to 1.7 percent of GDP in 2023.

Revenues.  The budget includes $583 billion in revenue increases over 10 years from limiting high-income deductions to 28 percent and from increasing taxes on millionaires.  It adds another $100 billion in revenues from the chained CPI proposal’s effects on tax payments, and adds $78 billion in tobacco taxes to pay for the early childhood initiative.  In a move disappointing to many human needs advocates, the President’s budget lists a large number of corporate tax loophole-closings, but holds them in reserve to pay for an unspecified reduction in corporate tax rates.  Advocates are seeking a net increase in revenues from any corporate tax reform agreement, but the President would make reform revenue-neutral.

Spending Overview:  The President’s budget would replace the multi-year cuts that started this year with sequestration with the new revenue, plus about $400 billion in health care savings (largely Medicare), $130 billion from spending cuts due to the chained CPI reduced inflation adjustment, another $200 billion in savings in other mandatory programs (such as farm subsidies), and $200 billion in appropriations cuts, split evenly between the Pentagon and other programs.  By reducing the deficit, interest payments will decline by $210 billion over the same 10-year period.  Together, the revenues and spending cuts will reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion.  The Administration estimates prior deficit reduction at $2.5 trillion; adding in his new budget proposal, deficit reduction would total $4.3 trillion over 10 years.

Budget Comparisons:  The President’s budget raises less revenue than the Senate’s $975 billion from progressive sources over 10 years.  The President’s plan cuts mandatory spending more ($600 billion in health care and other savings); the Senate’s mandatory savings total $350 billion.  The President cuts discretionary spending (appropriations) less than the Senate.  The Senate cuts $240 billion from the Pentagon, compared with $100 billion in the President’s budget.  The Senate cuts domestic and international appropriations by $142 billion, compared with the President’s $100 billion.

The Administration’s and Senate’s plans both differ starkly from the House budget, which includes no net revenue increases, and cuts spending by about $5 trillion, plus another $700 billion in interest savings.  The Pentagon is not cut.  About two-thirds of the cuts affect low-income programs, including deep cuts in Medicaid and SNAP/food stamps.  (For more details about the House and Senate budgets see the March 18 Human Needs Report.)

Details on Low-Income Programs in the President’s Budget:

Early Childhood:   The $75 billion 10-year Preschool for All proposal to ensure that every low- and moderate-income four year old gets pre-kindergarten education is joined by $1.4 billion next year for Early Head Start and child care partnerships to increase high quality early learning programs for infants and toddlers through age three.  Further supporting young families, the budget would expand voluntary home visiting services for families with newborns, with $15 billion over ten years, starting in FY 2015.

Aid to Poor Communities:  The President’s budget attempts a comprehensive approach, putting together resources from multiple government agencies to attack both the causes and toxic by-products of poverty.  It would create 20 Promise Zones, coordinating housing, education, anti-violence, and other economic development initiatives.  The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative would provide $400 million to improve distressed HUD-assisted housing in very poor communities (up from $120 million this year).  Homelessness Assistance Grants are increased by about $350 million, not counting the extra across-the-board cuts now being made.  Apart from the early childhood education expansions, there are initiatives to improve high schools and to invest in community colleges, both targeted to low-income community needs.  Related to the Administration’s push to reduce gun violence, the budget includes $160 million in new funds for Project AWARE, providing for more trained mental health providers able to work with children and youth in school, as well as more public safety support in poor communities.

The budget repeats the President’s $12.5 billion Pathways Back to Work proposal, which would fund summer and year-round jobs and training for low-income youth and provide subsidized jobs and training for the long-term unemployed.  This initiative was part of the President’s unsuccessful American Jobs Act proposal last year.  In part, it builds on the success of subsidized jobs funded through a now-expired Temporary Assistance for Needy Families emergency fund, in which hundreds of thousands of temporary jobs were created.

There are broader job creation initiatives, with funding to rebuild infrastructure, invest in clean energy, and create manufacturing hubs.  These are not specially targeted to help the poor, but overall efforts to create jobs will be a help, especially if the Administration connects job training for low-income workers to these new plans.

Reverses SNAP Cuts:  Millions of poor people are now facing a reduction in SNAP/food stamp benefits scheduled to start in November.  The President’s budget would cancel that loss in food assistance, estimated to cost a family of three $20-$25 a month.  In another critical area where the budget at least partially reverses cuts to low-income programs, rental housing vouchers for low-income families are increased by more than $1 billion.  The automatic cuts now in effect could reduce the number of vouchers going to low-income families by 140,000, out of 2.2 million households now benefiting from this form of housing assistance.  The President’s budget would end these cuts.

Makes Low-Income Tax Credits Permanent:  While the last deficit reduction deal made the Bush tax cuts permanent for all but the richest 1 percent, the low-income tax credits were only extended for five years.  The Obama budget makes the current levels permanent for the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (the latter for college students).  The Child Tax Credit and EITC lifted more than 9 million people out of poverty in 2011.  However, the chained CPI proposal will reduce the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit over time.

Protects Health Coverage:   The budget protects Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  It continues implementation of the Affordable Care Act, showing states that they can count on the promised federal support for expanding their Medicaid programs.

Cuts to Low-Income Programs:  Unaccountably, despite the Administration’s emphasis on interconnected programs to maximize effectiveness, the budget repeats its proposal to slash the Community Services Block Grant to $350 million (down from $682 million this year, not counting the across-the-board cuts).  These funds support community action agencies nationwide, which administer Head Start, home energy assistance, emergency food, and local economic development and other anti-poverty initiatives.  These agencies leverage private dollars and do the kind of coordination of services the Administration is counting on.  The budget also cuts the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by more than $500 million, counting this year’s across-the-board cuts.

Scope:  By choosing to stick to the deficit reduction offer made and rejected last year, the budget cannot support enough job creation and economic development to meet the needs of the current weak economy.  There is no doubt that there is strong opposition to making the needed investments.  But just as President Obama’s leadership has maximized public support for gun legislation and helped to shape public support for immigration reform, his leadership in pressing for jobs and shared prosperity will matter.

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