The fiscal 2017 People’s Budget was formally unveiled Tuesday by leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the same day that House Republicans released their own dystopian spending plan – and found that conservatives were criticizing it for not being austere enough.
It was a day of sharp contrast between the progressive vision of a government working to strengthen working families and make our economy and politics more fair, and a conservative vision of government all but abandoning struggling families while coddling the wealthy and powerful.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a member of the House Budget Committee and a leader in the effort to write the People’s Budget, said at a news conference that the budget “provides major investments and reinvestments in our country through investments in infrastructure, education and wage growth to increase opportunity for everyone.”
By contrast, the Republican budget is “going to be more austerity,” he said in response to a question. “That’s what we’ve seen over and over with their budgets, and we’ve seen the real-life ramifications of that,” such as the lead pipe disaster in Flint, Mich. that was set up by budget-cutting decisions byk the state’s Republican governor.
The People’s Budget sets aside specific funding for replacing lead pipes in Flint and in other communities with the same issue, as part of a broader $1 trillion, 10-year program of infrastructure investment.
Meanwhile, House Republicans released a $1.07 trillion budget for fiscal 2017 that proudly boasts that it allocates less money on discretionary spending programs – covering a broad expanse of services that touch the lives of tens of millions of people – than were spent on these programs eight years ago.
The budget also contains a stunning list of policy and spending proposals. They include pulling funding from green energy programs and promoting hydraulic fracking of fossil fuels, ending support for Amtrak and new urban mass transit projects, shutting down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, repeal the Affordable Care Act without a specific plan to replace it, create a parallel privatized Medicare system, turn Medicaid into a state block grant program without “intrusive federal dictates,” and likewise the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as “food stamps”) would also be turned into a state block grant program.
States under these new block grant programs would have to restrict aid to people who are working or who are seeking work. These kinds of restrictions imposed on other government assistance programs have already created a population of extremely poor people, especially in parts of the country where there are not enough jobs for people with low education or marginal skills.
Overall, the House Republican budget aims for balance within 10 years, with $7 trillion in deficit reduction over that period. The Congressional Budget Office warned that under the Republican budget proposal, “over the next few years, economic output would be lower than under any of the other paths CBO considered because differences in federal spending and revenues would reduce total demand for goods and services.” And that is even without factoring in what would happen if the U.S. economy went into recession and the Republican leadership continued taking even more demand out of the economy to keep its balanced budget pledge.
If there is any solace in all of this, it is that the the extremist wing of the House Republicans – the Freedom Caucus – has announced that it does not support this budget. They want another $30 billion slashed out of this budget for fiscal 2017 – but presumably not out of the $89 billion increase over 10 years that the Republicans propose to spend on the military above President Obama’s request, or the $74 billion this year alone that the Republicans propose to add to the notorious Overseas Contingency Operations fund (which the People’s Budget would eliminate).
Without the support of the Freedom Caucus, it is quite possible that House Speaker Paul Ryan will not be able to bring this budget to the floor at all. The bad news is that if there is not a vote on the House Republican budget, there would not be a debate on the People’s Budget either, and Americans would not get an opportunity to see the contrast between the dystopia offered by Republicans and the hopeful vision offered by progressive members of Congress.