Unpacking Biden’s budget plan and its chances of becoming law with a divided Congress

Lawmakers are making political and financial calculations Thursday after President Biden released his $6.9 trillion budget plan for 2024. The White House proposal calls for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to invest in the working class. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins Amna Nawaz to breakdown the highlights and make sense of it all.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Lawmakers are making thousands of political and financial calculations this evening after President Biden released his $6.9 trillion budget plan for 2024.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The White House proposal calls for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to invest in the working class.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: My budget is about investing in America and all of America, including places and people and folks who've been forgotten.

    Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they're invisible. Not anymore. I promise you I see you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The White House plan anticipates the gap between what the country takes in and what it spends will grow next year to $1.85 trillion.

    NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to break down the highlights and to make dollars and cents of it all.

    Hi, Tam. Nice to see.

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:


  • Amna Nawaz:

    See what I did there?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You got a budget put in right up on top.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right at the top.

    Listen, Tam, as you know, the president often says budgets are a reflection of the authors' values. What does this budget tell us about this president and the White House?

  • Tamara Keith:

    This is a pretty decent preview of what we can expect him to run on for president in 2024 with his anticipated reelection campaign.

    This is also a lot of what he ran on in 2020, when he ran for president last time. And so what you see is a lot of spending. This is not what you would call an austerity budget. He isn't getting the nearly $3 trillion in deficit savings that the White House has been touting for days by cutting spending in a big way.

    What he's doing is putting money into programs that he believes the — will make life easier for everyday Americans, things like paid family leave, childcare, universal pre-K, also funding for border security. A budget is a big, huge document that covers the waterfront of every part of the American government.

    And President Biden has a lot of ideas in there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you mentioned that $3 trillion. And that has been the headline from the White House, that this will reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over a decade.

    Does the math back that up?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The math does back up that they are cutting the deficit by $3 trillion.

    However, let's add some context to that, which is that the government will still spend a lot of money, and there were — there will still be deficits every single year in that 10-year window. And by the end of that 10-year window, the debt-to-GDP ratio, which is something that budget watchers pay a lot of attention to — that's the national debt as compared to the size of the U.S. economy.

    It — the debt will exceed the size of the U.S. economy at a level not seen since immediately after World War II. That's according to an analysis for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

    So it is — it is both a budget that cuts the deficit and also a budget that continues to have deficits and continues to add to the national debt.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, here's what we see. We see Democrats largely saying they want to raise taxes on the wealthy. Republicans are saying, well, the country actually brings in enough. We are simply spending too much.

    And, just yesterday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he is ready to negotiate, to a point. Take a listen.


    I do not believe raising taxes is the answer. I have had this discussion with the president. Personally, if you look at the revenue that's coming into America today, it's higher than any 50-year average.

    We have only topped this two other times that we have met — the same time. But our expenses are much higher.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, is there any indication that either side is ready to compromise on this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, not really not yet, though compromise is probably going to be inevitable if the debt ceiling is going to be raised and if the government is going to be funded, and if, in the long term, programs like Medicare and Social Security are going to continue to be fully funded and viable.

    But President Biden, hearing that the speaker was upset that he hadn't met with him and hadn't negotiated yet, topped his speech today saying: Well, the speaker says he wants to meet with me. I said I'd meet with him again when he shows me his budget. So show me your budget.

    Really, what we should think of these documents as, it's a political document. It is also an opening volley in what is going to be a high-stakes battle between House Republicans and the president of the United States and Democrats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned Medicare and Social Security. Those become top-line issues every time we talk about this. House Republicans call for cuts.

    I don't think we can remind people enough where the money does go. When you take a look at federal spending, that blue chunk there is mandatory spending. You see Medicare and Social Security make up about half of that. The green section there is discretionary spending, and military and defense spending makes up just a little less than half of that.

    So, to your earlier point, Tam, do we have any sense, when Republicans are saying we have to make cuts, where those are going to come from?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, Republicans have said that they don't want the cuts to come from defense. And they have also said they don't want the cuts to come from Medicare and Social Security.

    So you take that giant pie, and you cut it down to a much smaller piece of the pie. And that's where they would need to get all of their cuts from. And they're saying that they want the balance — the budget to balance over the next 10 years.

    So that would require massive cuts, to the point where people would definitely notice. But just as the White House budget is pretty abstract and dead on arrival in Congress, a Republican budget, if they release one or when they release one — and I think it's still in the if stage — that is also not going to become law.

    So, as I say, there's a back-and-forth. This is a conversation that's happening. And these are — these are vision documents.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So here we are now. We have the president's budget, right? Congress is up. Those very real pressures you mentioned. They have to raise the debt ceiling by this summer.

    How do you see this unfolding in the weeks ahead in a body that's not known for meeting deadlines?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Not known for meeting deadlines, but the debt ceiling, although it's not clear exactly when the X-date is going to happen, sometime in the late summer likely, that is a real deadline.

    That is a real deadline with real consequences if it isn't raised. So I think that there are going to be negotiations, but my guess is that the real hard negotiations, the serious talks probably aren't going to happen until it gets much closer to the deadline.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

    Tam, always good to see you. Thanks for being here.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Good to be back with you.

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