Members of the Congressional Black Caucus speak against proposed tax cuts, December 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When it comes to budgets, debts and deficits and, most importantly, the future of the US economy, there are two distinct visions competing in Washington.
Both cost a lot of money.
But they seek to steer the United States in radically different directions.
One vision, that of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, spends our federal largesse on tax breaks for the rich and schemes to divert Medicare funds into the accounts of private insurers. It’s classic crony capitalism. But that’s not the worst of it. Because Ryan’s plan comes wrapped in an austerity model for squeezing government spending and investment, it threatens to stall an economy that is only beginning to grow at a rate sufficient to create needed jobs.
On Thursday, the House voted 221-207 for the Ryan budget. The Republican majority was reasonably solidified in support of the proposal, although ten sincere fiscal conservatives opposed a measure that focuses far more of satisfying the demands of Wall Street donors than actual deficit reduction.
Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the Ryan budget. That can and should be read as a rejection of the ugliest face of austerity. But it is not the case that congressional Democrats are united when it comes to presenting an alternative to Ryanism. And that’s a problem because voters don’t just want Congress to reject austerity; polling data makes it clear that they want an alternative that is focused on job creation.
The best alternatives to the Ryan budget have been presented by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The two groups, which have a significant overlap in their membership, saw their proposals rejected by the House on Wednesday. Ryan’s Republican colleagues opposed both plans, as did dozens of cautious Democrats who have yet to recognize the importance of challenging the lie of austerity with a no-holds-barred growth agenda.
The political reality, of course, is that this week’s House votes settle nothing with regard to the budget priorities that will ultimately frame the nation’s future. “Once again, Republicans in the House have passed a budget that the American people do not support, and has no real chance of becoming law,” explained Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the Budget Committee. “This is a budget whose math is bogus, but whose consequences are real and serious for our middle class families in Wisconsin. From destroying jobs, to raising taxes on the middle class, to turning Medicare into a voucher system, it makes the wrong decisions and reflects the wrong priorities… But the biggest problem with the GOP budget is that it fails to tackle the greatest threat to our long-term deficit—our need to grow our economy and create jobs. With 12 million Americans still unemployed, and millions more who are underemployed, the best budget we can put forth is one that fosters job growth.”