The US House of Representatives has opened a debate on the direction the country should take regarding budget priorities.
At the most interesting ends of the debate, the choice is stark: A Budget for Wall Street versus a Budget for All.
Most Americans know that House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan is presenting the former option. The Wisconsin Republican has a history of crafting budgets that deliver for Wall Street. And he makes no great apology for that.
The Ryan budgets of the past several years have come at federal spending, tax, debt and deficit questions from different directions. But they have all ended up in the same place: outlining huge tax cuts for CEOs, billionaires and business insiders; proposing voucher schemes that have as their likely outcomes the steering of Medicaid and Medicare money into the accounts of private insurers; imagining Social Security "reforms" that would have American's trusting their retirement "security" to the speculators.
Ryan says he wants to save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And in this he is sincere. Like many of his Republican compatriots, the budget commttee chair has collected a lot of campaign contributions from insurance-industry insiders and Wall Street speculators. But there's more to Ryan than that. As an Ayn Rand–reading critic of government, he's far more comfortable than most Democrats and Republicans with the idea that "the market" would do a better job of delivering health care and retirement benefits.
Unfortunately, Ryan's route to "saving" those popular programs relies on what looks an awfully lot like the "crony capitalism" he so frequently decries. And the notion that markets work while government doesn't is a romantic rather than a realistic one—as any comparison of the costs of administering Medicare with the costs associated with for-profit healthcare well illustrates.
What's the alternative? The Obama administration has a budget proposal that's more mainstream than Ryan's. But its approach to core questions of economic renewal is unsettlingly cautious.
So how about a budget for all Americans?
That's what the Congressional Progressive Caucus is proposing. And members of the US House will, in a series of votes expected to take place late Wednesday and Thursday, have an opportunity to offer their views not just on the Obama budget and Ryan's budget but also on the CPC's "Budget for All." These votes won't end with the adoption of a budget. They are largely symbolic. But they do offer an opportunity for members of Congress to signal the direction in which they would like to see the country move.
And, while the Ryan budget has certainly drawn more attention, the CPC budget is in many senses the more exciting and potentially meaningful proposal—in no small part because it embraces the values and ideals of so many Americans.
"Americans believe, and experts agree, that the solution to our debt and deficit woes should rely on three components: Job growth, increased revenues, and spending cuts. The Budget for All relies on all three. Government is not the panacea for the issues that we face, but it is not the singular cause of our nation's strife as some would suggest," argue CPC leaders Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and their fellow progressives. "Our budget is a plan for those that believe in a government that works for them and helps find solutions [and invests] in Job Creation Now and Lays the Foundation for the Future by focusing investments ... in targeted areas such as transportation infrastructure, domestic manufacturing, and small businesses innovation, while supporting tax credits for working families."
—End emergency war funding beginning in FY '14, reduce base discretionary defense spending.
—Bring US troops home and realign national security strategy, saving $1.1 trillion over ten years.
—Invest $2.9 trillion in jobs, manufacturing, alternative energy, entrepreneurs and small business.
—Let Bush-era tax cuts expire for the highest incomes in '12, enact a high net-worth surcharge.
—Treat capital gains and qualified dividends as ordinary income.
—Limit regressive itemized deductions for high earners.
—End corporate welfare, establish accountability to discourage—not subsidize—harmful activity.
—Reduce deficits $6.8 trillion, cut spending $749 billion, reduce debt to 62.3 percent of GDP by 2022.
The CPC's timeline for reducing debt and balancing budgets is, a many turns, more ambitious, than Ryan's.
There's a reason for that.
The CPC actually wants to make government work, not to rely on fantasies about "the market," and certainly not to reward Wall Street.
That's the distinction between these two budget proposals.
That's why, in anticipation of Thursday's votes, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Texas populist Jim Hightower and activists with Progressive Democrats of America, peace and justice, economic justice and tax fairness groups are urging support for the "Budget for All" with a message that: "This budget would quickly and safely bring our troops home, create jobs, close wasteful loopholes, unleash creativity, as well as invest in our people and infrastructure—all while reducing the deficit and debt over 10 years! The radical Ryan Plan threatens our precarious economic recovery by slashing essential programs, yet offers no deficit reduction. Administration proposals are a step in the right direction, but don't do enough."
Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, sums things up well when he says: “The Budget for All exposes the folly of trying to achieve deficit reduction while offering the most affluent Americans trillions in top end tax cuts, as the Republican plan proposes. It exposes the lie that the country can’t afford to put people to work and still get our books in order. And it shows clearly that the nation can not only afford to protect Social Security and Medicare, but can’t afford not to."