Watch too much “mainstream” news, and you might think our choices are as cramped as our political debates. Partially restore our Clinton-era tax rates, or leave them be? Privatize Social Security, or just slash its benefits? Extreme austerity, or the “moderate” variety? In these debates, even short-term wins don’t stanch long-term losses. The discourse keeps shifting to the right, the money keeps flowing to the rich, and the poor keep bearing the burden.

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

While too many pundits and politicians insist we need an austere “Grand Bargain” to avert a “fiscal cliff,” the Congressional Progressive Caucus is laying out a fair bargain full of smart and humane approaches. The CPC’s “Deal for All,” first introduced as a congressional resolution in July, rests on four main planks: No benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. “Serious revenue increases,” including higher income taxes on the rich and fewer loopholes for corporations. A plan to “significantly reduce” spending on defense. And investments that promote real growth.

The resolution calls out the much-touted Bowles-Simpson plan (which never even passed the Bowles-Simpson Commission) as an “unbalanced” proposal with “unacceptable cuts.” It states plainly that “unemployment levels are still unacceptably high and Federal investments in areas such as infrastructure, education, research, nutrition, housing, and services struggling people in United States depend on grow the economy and create jobs.”

It’s a welcome and worthy document. As The Nation editorialized in support of its predecessor, the CPC’s “Budget for All,” “the winning alternative to Romney/Ryan austerity is not kinder, gentler Democratic austerity.” A Financial Transaction Tax, which Ellison has proposed in separate legislation, is gathering global momentum and also belongs in any progressive deal.

The Deal for All has been gaining support inside and outside the Beltway in recent months, and the CPC will see its ranks strengthened when the congressional class arrives in January (when the Senate will also see an infusion of new progressives like CPC veteran Tammy Baldwin).

The CPC has benefited from principled and savvy leaders in co-chairs Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva. On Thursday, these congressmen rallied with senators Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, Ben Cardin and Sheldon Whitehouse to support the Deal for All. Just as importantly, they were joined by leaders of MoveOn, the Campaign for America’s Future, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Strengthen Social Security. The AFL-CIO has also pledged to oppose any deal that cuts social insurance benefits or leaves the Bush tax cuts in place for the top 2 percent.

The stakes are high. As Robert Borosage writes in this week’s cover story on the threat of a “Grand Betrayal,” “The budget debate will draw battle lines within the Democratic Party, between the Wall Street-dominated New Democratic wing and the progressive wing fighting for the change this country desperately needs.” Indeed, as our own Chris Hayes and his panel discussed on Saturday, the absolute refusal of some number of Tea Party House members to raise taxes should mean that any rotten Grand Bargain would need some House Democrats in order to pass. That offers leverage, if progressive representatives can out-organize the bards of austerity in their own caucus. But they won’t be able to do it alone. They’ll need our help.

Read the rest of Robert Borosage‘s cover story on the so-called "fiscal cliff" and the fight against austerity.