Politics isn’t always the art of compromise. Sometimes, it is the imperative of standing up for principle. Sometimes, it is the refusal to accept the boundaries of the politically acceptable and, guided by a vision of a nation that can do better by its people, redraw the boundaries.
One of those moments will come today when House Democrats will decide whether to support the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ People’s Budget.
Usually, the Progressive Caucus budget fails to get the votes of a majority of House Democrats. It’s not hard to imagine why. To vote for the People’s Budget is to take potentially tough political stands against the wishes of the moneyed interests that dominate our politics.
As corporations and the wealthy seek to lower their tax rates, the People’s Budget unapologetically raises them, up to a high of 49 percent for people earning more than $1 billion. It not only shuts down the loopholes corporations and the wealthy use to evade taxes, but it says that people who earn their income through capital gains don’t get to pay a lower tax rate than the people who earn income through their labor.
As Republicans assert that a “balanced budget” is the only path to avoiding economic ruin, and that such balance must be achieved on the shoulders of low- and moderate-income people, the People’s Budget categorically rejects the premise. It declares that using the resources of government to get people working again at good paying jobs is fundamental to restoring the nation’s economic prosperity.
When elites say that Social Security and Medicare “entitlements” are consuming too much of our national wealth and that future retirees should have to wait longer for a more meager benefit, the People’s Budget asserts that the ability of our senior citizens to retire with dignity should never be a bargaining chip. Not only can we as a nation afford to boost Social Security benefits, it is an imperative given how badly the massive shift to defined contribution plans like 401(k)s – a key feature of “you’re on your own” economics – has served working people.
When fossil fuel lobbyists dictate that a Republican budget must hold sacrosanct preferences for coal and oil but belittle investments in solar and wind because “the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers,” the People’s Budget stands up to the established order. It embraces the reality that in the face of undeniable climate change caused by our overreliance on fossil fuel, we must choose a sustainable green economy for our future.
When security “hawks” say that the measure of a nation’s strength is in how much it doles out in contracts to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and dozens of other merchants of military hardware, the People’s Budget declares that real security is measured by how we address the roots of instability, and how skillfully we use our diplomacy and our alliances to create a more peaceful world.
As Republican politicians tack toward an acknowledgement that most of the middle class is worse off than it was three decades ago, but refuse to see the connection to economic policies largely circumscribed by conservatives and big-money interests, the People’s Budget calls out the people and policies responsible for rigging the economy against working people, and makes the bold choices necessary to undo the damage.
This budget reflects a different vision for America and for a government that is charged with serving all of its people. It is also practical – it is filled with smart policy proposals designed to heal the areas of the economy wounded by the mistakes of the past and its prescriptions have been endorsed by some of the nation’s leading economists.
This is what the budget vote in the House amounts to: A vote for the People’s Budget is a declaration that Democrats are willing to take away the power of conservatives and their moneyed benefactors to draw the limits of the politically possible. The public is ready: Virtually every major policy direction in the People’s Budget enjoys majority support, according to polling we’ve aggregated over the past year at PopulistMajority.org. Another sign is the 150,000 people who signed up to be citizen co-sponsors of the People’s Budget in less than a week, the result of a campaign that included Daily Kos, Social Security Works, the Campaign for America’s Future and other grassroots progressive organizations.
Finally, congressional Democrats should have learned from the 2012 election disaster that there is no sanctuary in the folds of a Republican-lite political timidity.
The People’s Budget vote will tell us which Democrats keep themselves trapped in the constraints of a conservative/corporate establishment that might tolerate palliatives for ease the pain of our economic sickness but rejects the surgery that would cure it, and the Democrats willing to break the restraints and reach for solutions that match the severity of America’s problems – and the possibilities of a much better future for working people.