One way to assess an administration's public policy priorities is by examining its annual budget submission to Congress: The higher an administration sets its funding requests for particular federal departments, agencies, and programs, the greater the emphasis the administration plans to place on selected public policy goals.

Through that lens, the Obama administration's recent budget proposal, submitted to Congress on February 9, 2016, with requests of$4.1 trillion in federal expenditures for fiscal year (FY) 2017, reflects the administration's emphasis on the development and enforcement of labor and employment policy. While Republican leaders on Capitol Hill predict that passage of the administration's FY 2017 budget in its current form is a forlorn hope, the proposed budget nevertheless reflects the administration's aspirations and priorities.

For example, the FY 2017 budget requests $12.8 billion—a 4.9 percent increase over FY 2016, for the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL). Within that increase, the administration requests $1.9 billion for the enforcement of regulations for occupational safety and health, wage and hour rules, working conditions, civil rights activities, and retirement security. The DOL budget seeks a huge 21.5 percent increase for its Wage and Hour Division, which is stepping up enforcement against misclassification of independent contractors and completing a massive rewrite of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime exemption requirements under 29 C.F.R. Part 541, which would raise the salary basis and adjust the job duties required for exemption from overtime pay. The final overtime regulation is anticipated by the time of the DOL's regulatory agenda in July 2016.

The DOL budget also states that the administration would be willing to work with Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.

  • Among other spending priorities, the FY 2017 DOL budget allocates $2.2 billion to the Paid Leave Partnership Initiative to assist five states in launching state-approved paid family and medical leave programs. The administration has expressed support for a federal law for paid leave, but failing that, will support state initiatives.
  • The DOL budget seeks $5.5 billion for educational and workforce training programs for disadvantaged youth; $2 billion for apprenticeship programs; and $3 billion for the American Talent Compact, which is designed to connect employers with training providers, including community and technical colleges.
  • Finally, the DOL budget calls for $595 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and $397 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The FY 2017 budget also seeks funding for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the amount of $377 million (a $4 million increase from 2016) and for the National Labor Relations Board in the amount of $275 million (a decrease of $3 million from 2016).

The FY 2017 budget proposes revenue raisers to fund increased government spending by levying new taxes on large banks and a new $10-per-barrel tax on oil.

An alternative FY 2017 budget currently being prepared by the Republican majority in Congress is likely to have much different policy priorities. The deadline for reaching a budget deal is September 2016, absent which the federal government will be forced to shut down. If that deadline passes, a Continuing Resolution (CR) will likely keep the government operating through the 2016 presidential election and into 2017.