How Does Obama’s Proposed 2015 Federal Budget Stack Up Against What Americans Actually Want?

18 Trillion dollars.

If that figure looks familiar, it might be because it reflects the current US National debt.

On the other hand, 3.9 trillion may sound a little more obscure when you’re talking national finance. However, $3.9 trillion is what the federal government is projected to spend in the 2015 fiscal year.

While most of that money will go toward mandatory spending, over a quarter of the funds will be allocated for discretionary spending- and that’s where things start to get murky.

The results of an independent survey of 150 voters has revealed that defense, education and science/medical research were cited as the most important issues to the participants. Additionally, the results  showed that they would like the most money to be allocated to these areas as well.

Unsurprisingly, this data did yield to political party affiliation. On average, Republicans still rate defense spending as a higher priority than Democrats and Independent voters. Democrats on the other hand, would like to see more money spent on safety net programs than their Republican counterparts, according to the same survey.

While it is impossible to please everyone during the budget process, Americans have felt increasingly disenfranchised when it comes to the allocation of federal funding. In fact, they have been taking to social media to show that this year is no exception.

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The tenacity of each issue’s supporters has only been purported further through politicians’ own rhetoric. And with 2016 edging closer and closer, potential candidates want to make it clear to their constituents that they are listening .

Regarding national defense and foreign policy, the 2016 Republican primary has become increasingly hawkish. Presidential hopefuls continue to bash President Obama’s strategy of “leading from behind” in efforts to stay relevant to the GOP base.

Similarly, Democrats are tackling social issues such as LGBTQ rights and immigration, two topics Democrat voters find important. Hillary Clinton, who is widely considered the frontrunner in her party’s primary, has been particularly vocal on the two issues, and has begun to define her stances on both as she hits the campaign trail.

However, while talking of change is easy, are politicians really putting their money where their mouth is? Well, if the answer can be found in Obama’s 2015 budget proposal, the answer is… not quite.

In fact, the President’s 2015 budget proposal is almost identical to his proposal from the previous year.

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In regards to discretionary spending, defense spending continues to dominate, taking up 55% of the of the allocated $1.16 trillion. This is hardly a change from the year before where defense spending accounted for 57% of  $1.15 trillion worth of discretionary funds.

The only other change between the two budget proposals include an increase in discretionary spending for labor from 2% in 2014 to 5% in 2015 and according to the aforementioned poll, labor doesn’t come close to breaking the top three in regards to voters’ priorities.

Despite of any of the budget’s perceived shortcomings, voters found common ground in the fields of education and science/medical research. Across the board, Republicans and Democrats said they think education is one of the most important fiscal issues in America.

However, agreeing on importance doesn’t necessarily translate to agreeing on implementation. While members of both parties may feel education is important, the similarities seen to stop there as each party has its own idea regarding what is the best way to handle education reform.

Both parties have taken stabs at national education reform in the past, and the differences in initiatives like President Obama’s Race to the Top program and President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are very indicative of the views of each party.

Author Joel Spring said, “Race to the Top attempts to achieve traditional Democratic goals of reducing poverty and income inequalities, and making the U.S. the number one global economy.” To do so, the program provides monetary incentives to schools who reach a certain set of pre-set standers, which include the “development of rigorous standards.”

This program ultimately reflects the Democrat party’s 2012 platform in that “getting an education is the surest path to the middle class, giving all students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and contribute to our economy and democracy.”

On the other hand, “although NCLB covers numerous federal education programs, the law’s requirements for testing, accountability, and school improvement receive the most attention.” Though Bush may have taken a different route than Obama by stressing the need for higher test scores and increased standardized testing, both presidents were aiming for a similar goal- improving the standards of American education.

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Credit: Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA)

While these past measures have already had their time, Republicans and Democrats may currently be seeing their opinions convergence again as support for common core continues to fall across within both parties.

However, if politicians from either side want to make a more immediate change, they can begin by implementing, or at least  seriously considering, a raise in education funding- and the fact that their constituents are already calling for it certainly doesn’t hurt the odds of it happening.

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