As Austerity Looms, A Push for Progressive Budget that 'Works'

As Austerity Looms, A Push for Progressive Budget that 'Works'

There are two budgets up for a vote in the US House of Representatives this week.

One, according to many, is filled with terrible policy prescriptions that pamper the country's wealthiest while kicking the chair out from under workers, the elderly and the sick in the name of ending "the deficit problem" that even its proponents agree is not "currently" a problem.

The other is a progressive budget that aims to get people back to work, make Wall Street pay its fair share, and puts in place a series of financial instruments--including a tax on carbon and one on speculative and destructive trading--that economist historians say is not only "progressive" in its ideals, but truly a huge dose of economic common sense.

In an interview on Sunday's Face the Nation, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the plan's chief author, again defended the GOP's latest budget by stating flatly, "this is what the people want."

The problem?

According to numerous polls, he's dead wrong about what "the people" want.

"Our budget is a vision document," said Ryan. But, according to economists and political experts Ryan's proposals are not only tired and recycled ideas from previous budgets, they were collectively voted down in last years presidential contest when Ryan, running as Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, trumpeted the same ideas nationwide.

In fact, when not tied to their partisan labels, most self-identified Republicans don't even like these ideas.

Meanwhile, progressives in Congress are struggling just to get the basic outlines of their budget proposal out to the public.

Released last week by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the 'Back to Work' budget--widely praised when explained--is being pushed hard by its backers even as it continues to get short shrift in the wider media.

Advocating especially hard for the CPC's work is the left-of-center Campaign for America's Future, whose team of analysts and writers have divided their time equally between extolling the virtues of the 'Back to Work' budget and exposing the failures of the Ryan/GOP approach.

Over the weekend, the group launched a petition which reads:

House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan has released a budget proposal that is the most reckless austerity plan he's ever proposed. Instead of a budget that will slow the economy and kill jobs, vote for the Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget, which will grow the economy, create 7 million jobs and asks the wealthy and the multinationals to pay their fair share so we can make investments vital to our future.

The progressive budget, writes CAF's Richard Eskow, "is smart, effective, and practical, creating up to seven million jobs while reducing the Federal deficit by $4.4 trillion."

So what's the problem?

The plan--despite its sound economics and alignment with the desire of numerous public opinion polls that show support for the policies it recommends--the plan is marginalized by the corporate press and dismissed by leaders of the CPC's own Democratic Party.

In Washington, one hears mountains of commentary about the Ryan budget -- both for and against -- but the only Democratic alternative that receives much attention is the Senate budget put fourth.

But, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein argues:

The correct counterpart to the [Ryan budget] isn't the cautious plan released by the Senate Democrats. It's the "Back to Work" budget released by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The "Back to Work" budget is about exactly what the name implies: Putting Americans back to work. The first sentence lays it out clearly: "We're in a jobs crisis that isn't going away." So that's the budget's top priority: fixing the jobs crisis.

It begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid: $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013 to 2015, including a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative and $179 billion in state and local aid. That's . . . a lot of stimulus.

And, according to economists, 'a lot of stimulus' is a good thing. On top of that, people like the impact that stimulus spending has proven to have on job creation.

"Its provisions are enormously popular with voters across the political spectrum," argues Eskow. "Yet in Washington's insular world of self-fulfilling prophecies we're told that this budget is unimportant because 'it will never pass.'"

But, as Common Dreams reported last month, "When the Business Insiderpolled registered voters and asked for their preferences among three [recent] Congressional plans floated to avoid the looming "sequestration" cuts in Washington, they found that when stripped of their partisan labels, the policies most favorable to the majority were those offered by the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus."

Votes on the budgets in the House are expected as early as Tuesday, but it remains unclear whether or not the Democratic party will use the opposing visions contained in the CPC and Ryan budgets to make a larger argument about the direction the economy should take in the months and years ahead.

"Progressives need to listen to the American majority and build a movement to demand action on jobs," writes Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future. "Of course we should do everything we can to mitigate the damage from Republican austerity measures. But our more important mission is to lay out an agenda to create jobs and growth. We should take that agenda to the American people - and we should also demand that the Democrats, who claim to be the party of the middle class and the poor, embrace that agenda (something very much like the CPC Back to Work Budget) and take it into the 2014 elections."


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