The destructive austerity budget of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan will be presented sometime next month and get intense media attention. On Wednesday, Reps. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota introduced the 74-member Congressional Progressive Caucus's fourth alternative budget, the Better Off Budget
. And unlike Ryan's effort, it's a safe bet that the far-sighted, people-favoring Better Off Budget will be ignored.
That's in part because, unlike the disastrous, plutocrat-stoking Ryan budgets of the past, the CPC's efforts have been treated as a joke from the get-go. And not just by the media. The caucus has been unable to put together a majority of "ayes" from House Democrats for its earlier budgets. Proof that good policy ideas don't automatically translate into political clout. This year, however, the CPC's objective is to exert more grassroots pressure to give the budget a better chance of getting noticed both in the media and in Congress.
Like the CPC's previous efforts—The People's Budget (2012), the #Budget for All (2013), and the Back to Work Budget (2014)—the Better Off Budget represents a stark contrast to the Republicans' safety-net shredding proposals and quite different from President Obama's budgets as well. Isaiah J. Poole at the Campaign for American's Future writes:
As a statement of values as well as policy, the Caucus’ proposal—called “The Better Off Budget”—is a loud and audacious rebuke to conservative austerity economics. As the previous caucus budgets have sought to do, it seeks to put forward bold policies that match the severity of the problems facing working-class Americans. It also sets up the debates we should be having about how to rebuild the economy so that it works for more than just a handful of people at the top. It spells out in blunt detail what it would take to make beleaguered Americans struggling in today’s economy “better off.”
The Better Off Budget, put together with the expert advice of the folks at the Economic Policy Institute, shows what a New New Deal approach looks like. It makes jobs the highest priority, its drafters boldly stating that it (and successor budgets) would put 8.8 million additional Americans to work by 2017. It would increase spending over the next decade by $2.5 trillion and simultaneously reduce annual deficits by slightly more than $4 trillion, more than the White House budget or what Ryan likely will propose. More revenue would be generated by ending the disparity between the tax rate on wages and that on dividends and capital gains, eliminating corporate loopholes in the tax structure, cutting the defense budget and imposing a carbon tax with adjustments for lower-income families.
More analysis below the fold.
Among the provisions:
• Repeal sequestration
• Renew the emergency unemployment compensation program
• Restore cuts to food stamps
• Allocate $820 billion for new and repaired infrastructure
• Institute a tax credit for individuals making less than $95,000 and couples making less than $190,000
• Impose a securities transaction tax
• Impose higher taxes for those earning more $250,000 as well as a tax on millionaires and billionaires that includes a marginal rate at the top of 49 percent.
• Create a public option for health care
• Tax polluters $25 per ton of carbon dioxide with an increase of 5.6 percent a year, and rebating 25 percent of all revenues as refundable credits to low-income families
• Repeal $118 billion in fossil fuel subsidies between now and 2024
• Reduce the Pentagon's budget
These aren't new ideas. Indeed, many of them have been expanded upon in detail elsewhere. But budgets are policy. Without money, ideas—no matter how good—are just something to discuss over beers. And having these all in one place provides a kind of platform.
Neither the Better Off Budget nor the White House's are going anywhere. Paul Ryan's is
the only on that will get an affirmative vote in the House and it will be DOA when it reaches the Senate.
Expect some critics to argue, therefore, that pushing progressive budgets or legislation is a waste of time. But that's backwards thinking.
One key way to move politics leftward is to describe what would be done on the policy front if the political clout to enact that policy existed. Thus does one gain the votes to build that clout. The Better Off Budget is brimful of proposals that would help reverse income inequality, repair some of the damage done by our acute and chronic economic problems and invest tax dollars in a job-creating infrastructure worthy of the 21st century. The budget does not, of course, address everything that needs to happen. Its vagueness on cutting Pentagon spending except for zeroing out the Afghanistan war is a serious drawback.
Like its predecessors, however, the CPC's budget points us in the right direction. Unlike what we've seen for too many years, it's not merely a defensive budget seeking to protect existing programs of value to progressives. It goes, gently, to be sure, on the offense. That's a badly needed turnaround. A required move that sets the stage for the next ones.
Robert Borosage at the Campaign for America's Future says it well:
The CPC budget is a bold statement that explodes the limits of the current debate. But it is only a first step. It moves towards but does not fulfill the Economic Bill of Rights President Roosevelt promised in World War II. It boldly raises taxes, but would collect only 21.5 percent of GDP in revenues by 2024 (up from a little more than 17 percent now). It makes essential investments, but essentially allows spending to expand only with the economy (from 22.7 percent in fiscal year 2014 to 22.9 percent in fiscal 2024). Even with state revenues and spending added in, America would remain far below the European level of social provision.
That is the final irony. The CPC budget will be embraced or damned for its call for dramatic reform. But it is basically common sense within a cautious framework. It argues we should invest more in vital areas—and waste less on special interests and unneeded programs. Ask the rich and the corporations to pay more in taxes so we can afford the programs we need.
One way to register your support is to become a “citizen sponsor”
of the CPC budget by urging representatives to vote for it.