President Biden appears to be continuing one of the few presidential norms that survived the disruption, and disfunction, of the Trump Administration. It’s the annual Potomac two-step involving the budget for the Civil Works division of the Army Corps of Engineers.
There is a well-established budgeting ritual involving this agency that is in charge of constructing projects promoting commercial navigation, flood and storm damage reduction, as well as environmental restoration on most of our nation’s major, and not-so-major, waterways. The White House lowballs funding levels enabling the administration to budget that cash for other priorities. Congress makes a theatric show of disapproval. When it comes time to actually producing the spending bills, Congress bumps the spending up and the president signs the bill. Glad handing and back slapping ensue. It’s a well-worn ritual undertaken by nearly every administration.
Through Fiscal Year 2020 the gulf between what the administration (both Obama and Trump) requested and Congress ultimately approved grew exponentially. In the FY2020 Omnibus, Congress appropriated nearly $3 billion (58.5%) more than the president had requested. This dropped to, umm, “only” a $1.8 billion (30%) difference in the final year of the Trump Presidency.
Now President Biden is requesting $6.8 billion for the Corps of Engineers. And while on paper this is a nearly 13% decrease from what was appropriated in Fiscal Year 2021, it’s actually a 14% increase compared to last year’s presidential budget request. In the end, with a Congress that always spends more than the president requests and a major push for increased infrastructure spending, you can bet this trend continues.