The Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled its fiscal 2016 “People’s Budget: A Raise For America” one day after House Republicans released their “A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America” proposal. The CPC touted a $1.9 trillion investment in America’s future and over 8 million new jobs. The House Republicans bragged about cutting $5 trillion over 10 years. The sharp contrast between the two reflect stark differences in values and ideology – and a basic choice of whether government will serve the many or the few.
The Republican budget is rightly scorned as a fantasy, a dishonest, Orwellian document, packed with magic asterisks and budget sleight of hand. But what is interesting is what Republicans claim that they value.
Republicans believe the rich and corporations have too little money and pay too much in taxes. They believe that Wall Street needs more freedom and less regulation. They believe that too many Americans have health insurance, that the poor have too much support, that schools need less money, that college should be less affordable to children from low-wage families. They believe that the Pentagon should get more money, and fight more wars. They believe that coal and oil need subsidy, not regulation.
They argue that the economy will grow faster if government spending is cut, regulations rolled back, and budgets balanced. Balancing the budget over 10 years is important enough that they sacrifice all credibility by packing the budget with omissions and distortions in order to reach the goal nominally. But balancing the budget is not important enough to ask the rich and corporations to pay an additional dime in taxes.
The CPC budget is fiscally cautious: It would bring America’s annual deficits down and begin to reduce the national debt as a percentage of GDP. But it is grounded in the reality that America faces major challenges that can no longer be ignored.
The CPC believes that our infrastructure is dangerously outmoded, so it makes a down payment on rebuilding America. It believes climate change is real, so invests in new energy and in aiding communities already staggered by extreme weather events. It believes education is vital, so it invests in universal pre-k, aid to schools and debt-free four-year college.
The CPC believes workers need a raise. So it lifts the minimum wage, calls for strengthening the workers right to organize, and lifts the floor with paid sick days, family leave, a crackdown on wage theft, revised overtime and more. It would continue health care reform, preserve Medicare and expand Social Security.
To pay for this, the CPC exacts savings from areas of massive waste. It would trim the Pentagon budget, and require an audit for the first time. It would end subsidies to Big Oil and limit them to agribusiness. It would empower Medicare to negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs, and create a public option in Obamacare to keep insurance companies honest.
And the CPC insists that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. It would create new tax brackets for those making a million or more. The People’s Budget raises the estate tax for the super-wealthy. It taxes the income of investors at the same rates as the income of workers. It terminates deferral, which allows multinationals to avoid taxes on money they report as earned abroad.
And the CPC argues we should tax “bads” to reduce them. It would impose a tax on polluters for carbon emissions, rebating a quarter of the revenue to protect low-wage families. It would hike taxes on cigarettes. It would impose a tax on speculation – a financial transactions tax – to curb destabilizing, computer-driven trading. It would end tax breaks for perverse CEO compensation policies.
The CPC argues the economy suffers from an absence of demand, partly driven by extreme inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class. Government investment in vital areas provides good jobs, moves the economy towards full employment and boosts demand. Government action to lift the floor under workers will help generate demand. Government crackdown on Wall Street speculation, CEOs looting companies and multinationals shipping jobs abroad will help drive investment into the real economy, not the financial casino.
The question really is who is the master? Who does government serve? Revealingly, the CPC People’s Budget provides for public financing of elections, seeking to limit the corruptions of big money. Republicans, not surprisingly, oppose any restriction on money politics.
The Republican budget – gimmicks, perverse priorities and all – will pass the House. The CPC People’s Budget will struggle to win 100 votes on the floor. But the former only reinforces what ails us. The latter offers an alternative that makes sense, that adds up. There is a way up. The rules don’t have to be rigged to favor the few. But it will take a sea change in Washington for common sense to gain majority support.