Let’s get this out of the way immediately: the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s plan to replace the sequester cannot pass the 113th Congress. But then again, Paul Ryan’s (in)famous “Path to Prosperity” had zero chance of being passed by a Democratic Senate and being signed by Barack Obama when it was unveiled in spring 2011, and yet it met with widespread (and often laudatory) press coverage.
So just because it won’t win a Congressional vote, it doesn’t mean the CPC sequester plan, unveiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill, should be ignored—especially because it has the notable advantage of being entirely sensible and “calculator-friendly,” as Steve Benen puts it. It evenly balances cuts and revenue, unlike every other plan out there; it cuts only from exorbitant and unnecessary defense programs and not badly needed government services like community health centers and home energy assistance, and most importantly—it makes investment and job-creation a goal.
The CPC plan, which you can read here, starts with a very important premise: to actually achieve an even balance of spending cuts and revenue increases, as the White House claims it wants to do, one must first take into account all the deficit reduction measures of 2011 and 2012. (An even balance of cuts and revenue increases is of course somewhat arbitrary, but does represent a very tangible compromise position between two approaches to addressing the deficit—and it’s the approach the White House is already pushing, so the CPC is happily endorsing that framing).
In any case, recall that Congress already agreed to $1.7 trillion in spending cuts in the first debt ceiling deal in August 2011, and then earlier this year, agreed to raise $737 billion in revenue by letting the high-end Bush tax cuts and other measures expire. The revenue raised is less than half of the amount of cuts already enacted.
So even if the coming sequester agreement, whatever that might be, does have a 1:1 spending cut to revenue balance, the overall deficit reduction we’ve done will not be even. Accordingly, the CPC plan first scraps the entire sequester, which would slant the final outcome even more towards spending cuts, and replaces it with enough new revenue to make the final outcome balanced.
The inevitable right-wing framing would be that all the big-government progressives are refusing to cut spending and only want to raise taxes—but, in fact, the “Balancing Act” simply evens out the final mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. See:
The revenue increases the CPC proposed are also broadly non-controversial, and dovetail with what some leading Senate Democrats are already talking about anyhow. They mainly involve ending silly tax loopholes that overwhelmingly benefit big corporations and the very wealthy:
28 Percent Limitation on Certain Deductions and Exclusions ($482B)
Close Carried Interest Loophole ($17B)
Close Loopholes for Jets and Yachts ($4B)
Close International Tax System Loopholes ($161B)
End Fossil Fuel Subsidies ($94B)
Close Exclusion of Foreign-Earned Income Loophole ($71B)
Close Corporate Deductions for Stock Options Loophole ($25B)
Close Estate Tax Loopholes ($23B)
Close S Corporation Loophole ($13B)
Reduce Corporate Meal and Entertainment Deduction to 25% ($70B)
But, you may be saying—by scrapping the entire sequester, there won’t be any cuts to defense spending!
The CPC plan addresses that, with serious cuts to wasteful Pentagon spending designed much better than the hatchet approach of the defense sequester. A popular caricature is that progressives must love the defense sequester, but in reality, it’s not all that great—it cuts equal amounts across the board from all levels of defense spending, so things that don’t really need to get cut see the same reductions as incredibly wasteful programs that just need to be zeroed out.
The “Balancing Act” finds $278 billion in cuts in truly necessary areas, including reducing the amount spent on nuclear weapons and relocating unnecessary overseas military bases:
Rep. Markey’s Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures ($106B)
Limiting Excessive Contractor Compensation ($50B)
Relocate Troops from Europe to the U.S. ($3B)
Reduce Troop Levels 4% by Attrition ($48B)
Limiting the Purchase of Virginia-class Nuclear Subs to one per year ($22B)
Replacing F-35s with F-18s ($23B)
Eliminate one Ford-class Carrier ($14B)
End Production of the V-22 Osprey ($9B)
Limit Military Bands ($2B)
Reduce General & Flag Officers to Cold War Standard ($1B)
Of course, these cuts would throw the balance back towards the spending cut side. But the coup de grace of the “Balancing Act” is this: It takes the savings from cutting wasteful Pentagon spending and plunges it right back into job creation. The savings from $278 billion in Pentagon cuts is spent on a one-year extension of the Making Work Pay tax credit ($61B), along with $55 billion for hiring teachers and $160 billion for infrastructure investments. All told, the CPC estimates that investment would create one million new jobs.
An even balance between spending cuts and tax increases. Ending tax loopholes that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy, while cutting wasteful Pentagon spending and investing in new jobs. It’s the most sensible sequester plan in Washington—and because this town is so screwy, it’s also the one nobody is taking seriously at the moment. That’s a shame.
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