Budget 101: You Are What You Fund

March 19, 2014

Pink piggy bank with glasses standing on textbooks in front of a blackboard with Budget 101 messageThis post is part of AAUW’s Budget 101 blog series, where we explore sequestration and the federal budget and how they affect Americans’ lives and AAUW priorities.

It’s that time again. Budget season!

Washington is moving into budget mode and beginning discussions on the federal budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1, 2014. A December 2013 budget agreement set the budget ceiling, or how much Congress could spend, for fiscal year  2015 at $1.014 trillion. But that agreement doesn’t mean that policy makers won’t try to make political points when cutting the proverbial pie to fund individual programs.

Budgets are an expression of values, and politicians of all parties use them to express their priorities. Take President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, released earlier this month. The $3.9 trillion proposal has no realistic chance of becoming law, but it does express the president’s policy priorities.

By reading his budget, we can see that Obama views affordable higher education, campus safety, early childhood learning, workforce training, paid leave, and increased enforcement against gender pay discrimination as priorities, because his proposal increases funding for these programs. These are AAUW priorities as well — as we’ve repeatedly told the administration and Congress — and we’re glad to see them supported.


Government budgeting is only slightly more complicated.

The president’s budget does fall short in some areas that affect women. For example, it proposes to reduce funding for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, the only government department dedicated solely to the needs of working women. By shifting funding away from the Women’s Bureau, the president’s budget creates a tradeoff between enforcement and proactive work at the Department of Labor. Although we need to punish wrongdoing, we also need to address the root causes of wage inequality.

Also concerning is the budget’s proposal to defund the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) program, which grants support to employers and labor union-sponsored apprenticeship programs for women in nontraditional occupations. This is a program that helps women train for and find good-paying jobs, and it shouldn’t be cut.

There’s a lot more to come in this discussion. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, hasn’t yet announced whether he will release his own budget proposal this year. AAUW opposed a previous proposal by Ryan because it cut funding to critical issues like student loans and health care. It remains to be seen whether he’ll continue to promote these policies.

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” In Washington, you can modify it to be, “You are what you fund.” Budgets are how we demonstrate our values and priorities. We’ll keep you updated on how this round of budget proposals demonstrates the priority that politicians place on women and their families.

Beth Scott By:   |   March 19, 2014

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