President Obama Sends His Final Budget to Congress

America has seen its way through the Great Recession and, through sacrifice and hard work, has turned its economy around. That was President Obama’s message when he submitted his proposed budget to Congress Feb. 9, requesting $4.23 trillion in spending authority for the 2017 fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. While acknowledging the country’s progress in building a stronger economy in recent years, Obama proposed a variety of new initiatives to address challenges that loom ahead for the nation—providing tuition-free access to community colleges, building a more energy efficient transportation system, strengthening the country’s cybersecurity resources, combating opioid addiction and others. 

The proposed budget provides detailed recommendations on the funding levels of federal agencies and many of their programs, including both mandatory and discretionary spending.  

Expanding Access to Education 
The budget proposed $69.4 billion in total discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education and its programs for fiscal year 2017. The proposed budget also requested $139.7 billion in new mandatory funding for the agency in the next fiscal year.

Included in the president’s proposal for new mandatory funding are several federal-state partnership programs. The budget would provide $60.8 billion in mandatory funding for America’s College Promise, a federal-state initiative that would make the first two years of community college free for all students. In addition, the president is requesting $1.3 billion in mandatory funding for 2017 and $75 billion over the next decade to make preschool free for all 4-year-olds from middle- and low-income families. 

Obama also requested more than $4 billion to fund the new Computer Science for All initiative. The funds would be allocated for states to expand access to computer science courses in grades K-12 by training teachers, increasing the availability of instructional materials and building regional partnerships. 

New Transportation Programs 
Obama requested $98.1 billion in mandatory and discretionary funding, an increase from $76 billion at current spending levels, for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $22.1 billion increase would fund the proposed 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan, an initiative to ease the nation away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy resources. All major transportation agencies, except the Federal Aviation Administration, would see an increase in funding under the proposal.

The budget proposal also requested $10 billion for a Climate Smart Fund that would reward states that invest in infrastructure that leads to smarter, cleaner or more resilient transportation systems.

Strengthening Cybersecurity
The largest rate of increase in the president’s budget would address cybersecurity reform. The president proposed a 35 percent hike in cybersecurity funding, which would reach $19 billion for the 2017 fiscal year. The president’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan aims to protect consumers and federal agencies from cyberattacks by bolstering federal-state partnerships to share best practices and policies.

Combating Opioid Addiction
The president proposed $1.1 billion in total funding to help states fight the growing tide of drug abuse. The proposal includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand treatment access for substance abusers. This is one proposal that has earned significant levels of support by both parties in Congress. More than 90 percent of the $1 billion would support cooperative agreements with states to expand medication-assisted treatment options or to make already existing services more affordable. Federal funding would be allocated to states based on the severity of the crisis and the feasibility of the states’ plans for responding to it.

Next Steps for the Budget
The Republican-controlled Congress will begin reviewing the proposed budget and the administration’s proposals as part of the federal budget process. In the upcoming months, congressional committees will hold a variety of oversight hearings reviewing the programs within their jurisdiction and providing recommendations. In addition, both House and Senate Budget Committees will develop and adopt their own budget resolution, which will provide the framework for spending authority. Although many of the president’s proposals have bipartisan support, Congress will determine the funding levels as part of the federal budget process.