Humane Budget from the Progressive Caucus
You know all the reasons the Paul Ryan budget and the whole rightwing approach to economics makes no sense.
To start with, the budget deficit is not our nation’s most pressing problem. The real crisis is unemployment and lack of job growth. As the employment picture improves, deficits have actually been going down every year since the height of the recession in 2009.
Trickle-down economics and deregulation have been tried and failed—remember the Bush Administration? How do you think we got here?
Austerity is disastrous—check out what is happening with unemployment and the “lost generation” in Europe.Social Security is currently running a surplus in its separate, off-budget trust fund, could remain solvent with a modest tax increase on high earners, and shouldn’t be on the table at all in budget talks. Yet the President has been telling Republicans he is willing to break his promise to seniors and consider “chained CPI”—an adjustment in the cost-of-living calculation that would severely reduce Social Security benefits.
In the current political environment, it is a huge relief to read the House Progressive Caucus “Back to Work” budget:
The “Back to Work” budget shows what a Democratic Party that had the courage of its convictions would actually do.
It is Paul Ryan in reverse.
This is a fundamentally humane proposal. It has a stated goal of eradicating poverty, and a target of cutting poverty in half in ten years.
It puts the problem of the jobs deficit ahead of the budget deficit, and makes a major investment in infrastructure.
In many ways, it makes good on the promises that won President Obama both his first and second terms.
It immediately repeals the sequester, and allows the Bush tax cuts to expire for families earning over $250,000 a year—a better deal than the one Obama recently struck with Republicans, which only repeals the Bush tax cuts on families making $450,000 and individuals who earn $400,000—a staggering new definition of “middle class.”
It brings back the “public option,” in health-care reform, helps the states set up a single-payer health-care option under the Affordable Care Act, and strengthens Medicare and Medicaid, which, the Progressive Caucus points out, “provide high-quality, low-cost medical coverage to millions of Americans when they need it most.”
The health care portion of the budget, which flies in the face of the Ryan Medicare privatization plan, makes the Progressive Caucus budget a much more serious plan to address the long-term issue of budget deficits than the Ryan approach.
“The health care stuff is really significant,” says Laura Dresser, an economist at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at the University of Wisconsin.
As everyone knows, exploding costs in our inefficient, private health care system are a big driver of deficits. More health-care privatization is not the answer.
“Every employer with a staff with health insurance knows this,” says Dresser. “Only the Federal Government can do anything about it.”
“The Federal Government’s capacity to build a health-care system to contain cost increases is what the deficit hinges on.”
The Back to Work budget also addresses other long-term problems Democrats and Republicans alike have been afraid to touch.
“The way the U.S. budget currently deals with the environment is entirely upside down,” one section declares. It rectifies this situation by doing away with huge subsidies for the massively profitable fossil fuel industry, and eliminating tax breaks that favor fossil fuel over cleaner energy.
It calls for a complete restructuring of Defense spending to prioritize diplomacy and development and stabilize insecure regions of the world, saves billions through an expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan, and calls for an audit of the Pentagon—the only federal agency that doesn’t get audited and racks up billions in waste, fraud, and abuse.
It specifies the tax loopholes both parties talk about but neither has had the courage to close. “Unaffordable giveaways are a form of spending,” the budget declares.
Thus, it does away with mortgage interest deductions for vacation homes and yachts, special tax breaks for investment income, and includes a progressive estate tax authored by Senator Bernie Sanders.
It closes loopholes that encourages corporations to move jobs and hide profits overseas, imposes a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, and a “too big to fail” tax on dangerously large financial institutions.
A whole new set of tax brackets would ask millionaires and billionaires to pay between 45% and 49% of their income.
“The best way to reduce our long-term deficit is to put America back to work,” the Progressive Caucus declares.
This is demonstrably true. Deficits have been shrinking thanks to a combination of health-care savings in the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s stimulus (which was about half the size needed to bring us back to full employment, economist Dean Baker observed at the time.)
The Back to Work Budget funds construction and repair of roads, bridges, transit, energy, and water—based on an American Society of Civil Engineers estimate that we need $1.1 trillion in new infrastructure investment to avoid $3.3 trillion in losses to our GDP by 2020 due to deteriorating infrastructure.
The progressive budget includes Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, with its Park Improvement Corps–putting youth to work restoring public lands, a Student Jobs Corps, and a Child Development Corps to provide jobs in early childhood education.
Recognizing the crisis in state budgets, it gives block grants to the states to rehire the police, firefighters, and more than 300,000 teachers laid off since 2008.
This is the budget we would have liked to see President Obama propose. Instead, we have a President who talks like a progressive—and then goes to work on a plan to undermine the New Deal.
As the Progressive Caucus puts it: “This is what the country voted for in November. It’s time we side with America’s middle class and invest in their future.”
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wall Street Cheers the Austerity Bomb".
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter
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