Opinion | Biden uses the budget to bludgeon Republicans


President Biden likes to say, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Biden’s budget shows what he values. And by contrast to MAGA Republicans’ plans, he shows what they don’t value: crime-fighting, debt reduction and tax fairness. Budget comparisons might be among his most effective tools in setting the themes of the 2024 election season.

On Wednesday, deputy press secretary Andrew Bates released a memo touting Biden’s “new, historic actions in the fight against violent crime, continuing to lead on a life and death issue that the American people demand be addressed.” Bates continued, “As President Biden has warned, the Freedom Caucus plan would defund the police by cutting 20% of federal funding for law enforcement, assuming their proposed cuts are spread evenly.” The White House does not hesitate to remind voters that “a slew of MAGA congressional Republicans advocate for abolishing the FBI and the ATF” and that “Republicans in Congress, joined by the Trump Administration, have spent years trying to defund the police by slashing funding for the COPS program — a key way the federal government supports state and local law enforcement.”

Republicans have not yet released their official budget, no doubt because they are bitterly divided over the extreme measures some right-wing members want to pursue. However, the White House is essentially daring Republicans to dig their own political graves with radically unpopular cuts:

Will they reverse their years-long campaign to defund the police by paring back the COPS program, and join President Biden in strengthening it? …

Will they rebuke their members who wish to cancel the FBI and the ATF, and join President Biden in backing them?

Plainly, Biden is not about to concede the crime issue to Republicans. Deftly using the contrasting budgets, he puts the GOP on defense.

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Democrats have come up with budget comparisons to score political points on other issues as well. Republicans have rediscovered the ills of debt and threaten to hold the country hostage on the debt ceiling unless the administration agrees to massive cuts. However, Biden and his fellow Democrats seem to have outfoxed them.

Biden’s budget, while continuing to spend on domestic priorities, aims to cut the deficit by nearly $3 trillion over a decade. Meanwhile, Democrats have done the homework to show that Republicans’ promised balanced-budget plan to protect Social Security, keep Trump-era tax cuts and maintain defense spending is virtually impossible to achieve. The Congressional Budget Office, in response to a request from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), reports that to balance the budget as Republicans intend to do, while protecting defense, Social Security and Medicare, they would have to cut 86 percent of everything else.

You can bet Biden will cite this as evidence that Republicans really intend to savage entitlements (despite their protestations to the contrary during his State of the Union address) or else bulldoze everything else, from national parks to infrastructure to Food and Drug Administration enforcement. Biden’s bottom line: Democrats have the only deficit-cutting plan that does not hurt middle- and working-class Americans.

Biden has already begun to deploy budget comparisons to ding Republicans for phony populism. He wasted little time slamming them for their bill to eliminate funding increases for the Internal Revenue Service, which will step up enforcements against tax cheats. “My law to help crack down on big corporations who are cheating on their taxes will help level the playing field for our small businesses, which is part of why it has been so disappointing to see House Republicans make protecting wealthy tax cheats their top legislative priority,” he tweeted in January.

Biden has kept up his drumbeat of criticism over Republicans’ insistence that the rich and super-rich not pay a penny more in taxes. Citing tax fairness, his budget features a minimum tax on billionaires, closes a loophole on Medicare taxes, restores the top marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent for those earning more than $400,000 per year, and raises the standard corporate tax rate to 28 percent. Biden is only too eager to point out that while he won’t raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, Republicans want to shield big corporations and the rich from “paying their fair share.”

In sum, Biden has skillfully used the contrast between his budget and Republican budget promises to make a values-based argument in favor of Democrats. He is for crime-fighting; Republicans are averse to spending to fight crime. He is for responsible budgets; they are hypocrites when it comes to debt. And he is for tax fairness; they are for shielding the rich at the expense of everyone else.

When Republicans finally release their official budget, we will see if they’ve fallen into the trap of showing us what and whom they truly value.

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