Isaiah J. Poole
Washington politicos aren’t quite right when they say that federal budget proposals are “dead on arrival.”
Even if they don’t become law, budgets stand as living, breathing testimonies of the values and priorities of the people who write them.
And it may surprise you that the budget proposal that’s most likely to line up with your own values is also the one that’s most-dismissed as “dead on arrival.”
The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Better Off Budget,” unveiled in March, is getting far less attention than the budget House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a few weeks later.
Ryan became a 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate thanks to his rhetoric that promised to tame federal spending and stimulate the economy. But his “Path to Prosperity” plans have been broadly dismissed as strikingly out of touch with how the real world works and what real people want.
While the Better Off Budget stakes out the left flank of the budget debate, it’s far from radical. It follows the basic prescription that an economy still recovering from a devastating recession needs a push from government to boost economic demand. That means taking actions that will put people back to work quickly and allow people to have money in their pockets.
Its policies would support the creation of up to 9 million new jobs over the next three years, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That would close the gap between where the job market is today and where it would have been had the misguided economic policies of the 1990s and 2000s not set the stage for the Great Recession.
The Ryan budget, on the other hand, wouldn’t increase federal spending on job creation efforts by one dime. In fact, by making spending cuts that would slow economic growth, enacting the Ryan budget would cost the economy 3 million jobs over the next two years, the Economic Policy Institute says.
Plus, the tax cuts Ryan’s budget would lavish on the wealthiest Americans average $200,000, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, while many programs that millions of middle-class and low-income Americans rely on would be cut dramatically.
The cost of the Better Off Budget would be covered by asking the wealthiest among us to sacrifice the loopholes and dodges that allow the rich to pay taxes at lower rates than the people who work for them. These tax breaks let some of our most profitable corporations escape paying federal taxes altogether.
The net effect over 10 years would be what conservatives say they want — a federal deficit that’s under control through the fruits of economic growth. The Congressional Progressive Caucus’s budget proposal would accomplish that feat by ensuring that the tax burden is shared equitably.
The Populist Majority website notes that broad majorities — between 65 percent and 80 percent, depending on the poll — believe that job creation and economic growth should be the government’s top priority.
Roughly three out of four Americans agree that we should be asking the wealthy to surrender their tax loopholes and shelters to help reduce the deficit rather than asking seniors to give up inflation adjustments to Social Security or the sick to sacrifice Medicare and Medicaid benefits. And the broad majority of Americans supports increasing spending on the things that matter — such as the roads and transit systems we travel on and the schools where our children are taught.
Themes from the Ryan budget will be sliced into talking points and bumper-sticker slogans by Republican candidates as the nation lurches into the midterm elections.
Those slices, once reassembled, won’t add up to the values and priorities of most Americans. What this majority is looking for is simple: to get back to an economy in which people can get decent jobs and where we all feel we have an opportunity to do well.
The Better Off Budget has audacious, but common-sense, answers that voters would find compelling. All we need is for congressional candidates to start embracing them.
Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future.