Voters elected President Biden based on his promise to rebuild and reimagine the economy, root out systemic racism from our laws, policies, and institutions, and boldly invest in a better life for all people in the country, not just the wealthy few. He outlined critical steps toward fulfilling these promises in his signature legislative agenda, the Build Back Better plan. Unfortunately, lawmakers who sided with lobbyists and corporate donors instead of working class Black and brown people
significantly watered down the bill, which now is stalled in Congress.
Last week, the Biden administration released its proposed $5.8 trillion FY 2023 budget, which lays out the administration’s priorities for federal programs and signals to Congress recommendations for spending and tax policy changes. Some elements of the proposal—like its emphasis on having the wealthy pay their fair share—offer hope of moving the country forward. For example, the billionaires’ tax would raise about $360 billion over the next 10 years by taxing the roughly 20,000 wealthiest families in the country with annual incomes over $100 million. (Unfortunately, as a result of a handful of corporate-bought senators operating with a slim Democratic majority in Congress, Biden's tax proposal was essentially deemed dead on arrival.) Furthermore, Biden’s proposed changes to the tax code serve as a positive move toward making our tax system fairer and less racist. Overall, the budget includes some critical proposals that would help tackle inequities in our economic system and our democratic institutions and make progress toward addressing the climate crisis.
But other aspects—like the budget’s emphasis on “law and order” and deficit reduction—play to manufactured assumptions rooted in racism and designed to strip power from Black and brown communities.
While the budget proposes a $10 billion investment in strengthening elections and protecting the right to vote over the next decade, it fails to resource federal agencies to fully and effectively implement the Executive Order Promoting Access to Voting. As the assault on voting rights—especially those of Black and brown communities—grows, the federal government has a duty to empower agencies to connect their clients and patients with voter registration, especially now that the push for federal democracy legislation is stalled in Congress.
Language woven through the budget reverberates a status quo mindset. Many key investments included in Biden’s broadly popular Build Back Better agenda—investments that would leverage the power of robust government spending to combat climate change and strengthen our physical and human infrastructure—were merely left as a footnote in the 157-page budget document. Instead, Biden proposed $773 billion in defense spending, a 10 percent increase from current
levels. He also included about $32 billion in new spending for the police.
This pivot falls directly into racist, sexist, fear mongering traps, rooted in the belief that people of color are not deserving of government help and that it is better to prioritize funds for state violence over investments in Black and brown communities. We learned the hard way about the flawed logic of conflating reduced deficits with fiscal responsibility. Spending cuts during the Great Recession prolonged the recovery, costing jobs and overall harm to the most vulnerable among us. Investments in our communities grow and strengthen our economy. When we spend boldly on policies that benefit low-income people and communities of color and bolster the safety net, we will produce higher levels of growth.
But there’s still hope. Though relegated to a footnote, it’s not yet clear that the Biden administration is backing down on its support for key investments outlined in the Build Back Better bill that stay true to the promises of the campaign trail. Congress still has an opportunity to craft another legislative package and resuscitate crucial elements of the Build Back Better package. As we approach the midterm elections this fall, it is critical that we address the needs of our communities, rather than bowing to the demands of pandemic profiteers. Despite welcome gains due to robust government action during the pandemic that put us on the path toward recovery, we are still in a crisis that predates the pandemic. Returning to the status quo cannot be our north star.