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Biden budget release faces extended delay

Office of Management and Budget says there's still no timeline, cites issues during presidential transition

Neera Tanden is President Joe Biden's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Neera Tanden is President Joe Biden's nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. (Andy Harnik/AP Pool Photo)

The Biden administration still has no public timeline for sending the president’s first budget request to Congress.

While first-year presidential budget delays have become something of a tradition, initial “skinny” versions have often come sooner. President Barack Obama released early details on Feb. 26, 2009; his predecessor, George W. Bush, did so on Feb. 28, 2001. Bill Clinton gave an overview in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 17, 1993.

President Donald Trump set a perhaps modern record for delays: departments and agencies got their topline numbers from the Trump administration on Feb. 27, 2017 in a process known as a “passback.” But details weren’t released to the public until a skinny budget was released March 16.

This year, that might be an aggressive timeline since administration officials say the Office of Management and Budget is still dealing with the aftereffects of obstinance from the outgoing Trump administration during the presidential transition.

“In a dramatic departure from past presidential transitions, the previous administration’s political appointees at OMB placed severe limits on the type of assistance career professionals could provide the Biden transition team, including blocking analytical work that is necessary to developing a budget,” OMB spokesman Rob Friedlander said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

During the post-election period while Trump was still in office, OMB officials argued that they were providing appropriate assistance to the presidential transition effort once ascertainment was ultimately made.

However, Trump OMB Director Russ Vought also said in a letter to longtime Biden adviser and former Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., who was involved in overseeing the transition, that “[r]edirecting staff and resources to draft your team’s budget proposals is not an OMB transition responsibility.”

Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and Biden’s nominee to lead the budget office, has had at times contentious hearings before both the Budget and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees and is awaiting votes before either or both panels.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mentioned Tanden’s confirmation process in response to a question about the timing of the fiscal 2022 budget at Wednesday’s White House briefing. She also noted delays in the General Services Administration’s “ascertainment” of the 2020 election results, which makes more services available to the transition team.

“As you know, our nominee to lead the OMB just had her hearing yesterday, and hopefully she’ll be in place soon. But there was — there were some challenges that came about during the transition in terms of a bit of intransigence from the outgoing administration and lack of cooperation, as it related to OMB on the budget process,” Psaki said.

Neither Psaki nor Friedlander would provide a specific timeline.

“Between that obstruction and GSA’s late ascertainment, significant work on a budget proposal in collaboration with OMB career staff was hamstrung for months,” Friedlander said. “While our team is working tirelessly to make up for lost time, the reality is that the roadblocks we faced during the transition will delay our timetable for releasing a budget proposal.”

Also in question is when Biden may address a joint session of Congress for the first time. The first year of a president’s term traditionally features a speech in the House chamber that looks and feels like a State of the Union address without meeting the technical definition.

“The impact of COVID includes the fact that it is challenging to envision how you’d have 500 people in attendance at a joint session,” Psaki said, leading a reporter to ask whether the speech could be virtual.

“There are — there are a range of options under discussion. We’re engaged on that,” Psaki said, before adding she had no specifics to provide.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the Capitol offices that oversee physical and health safety measures — the Sergeant at Arms, Capitol Police and Attending Physician — will make a decision about how Congress can safely and “spatially” host a joint session to hear President Joe Biden’s first annual address.

But the California Democrat indicated the session is unlikely to occur before March because of other priorities. “We won’t be doing any of that until we pass our COVID bill. That’s the first order of business,” Pelosi said.

It’s possible Biden provides a broad overview of his budget when he makes that speech, as Clinton did in 1993.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Clinton and Bush didn’t submit full, detailed budget volumes to Congress in their first years in office until early April. Obama didn’t submit his until May 7; Trump waited until May 23.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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