On Wednesday, President Obama spoke in eloquent language of our social contract, of a progressive patriotism, and of a role for government that helps us “do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” It was a clear rebuke to the GOP’s Robin Hood in Reverse agenda—taking from the poor and middle-class in order to preserve tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Obama made the right choice in defending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and pushing instead for healthcare reform—even putting negotiating drug prices on the table. He again refused to renew the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy—a pledge he has made and broken in the past. He also called for cuts in a defense budget that has contributed two out of three dollars in increased discretionary spending since 2001.
Yet in many ways his approach continues to legitimize the inside-the-Beltway consensus that spending cuts must lead the way toward achieving fiscal responsibility. Just as the Simpson-Bowles Commission proposes, for every $1 raised by closing tax loopholes on wealthy Americans, the President proposes $2 in spending cuts. Two-thirds of those cuts would come from education, health and other social programs, while only one-third comes from the military budget. While the president speaks eloquently of his vision of “shared sacrifice,” in reality it is still a budget that hits the poor and the middle-class hardest while wealthy Americans and the military are asked to sacrifice far less.
An alternative approach that deserves more attention is the “People’s Budget” offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). It will be introduced in the House on Thursday and it is the strongest rebuke—in the form of an amendment—to the unconscionable “Ryan Budget” for FY 2012. It’s a budget that gives the people—according to poll after poll—exactly what they want (something which shouldn’t be a rarity in a healthy, vibrant democracy).
The People’s Budget lays out what a robust progressive agenda looks like. It protects an already frayed social net and promotes a progressive tax policy that makes millionaires, billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share. It doesn’t stop at cutting the low-hanging fruit at the Pentagon, instead it brings our troops home from two wars that cost trillions of dollars and do nothing to make the US safer, and resets and rethinks what real security means in the twenty-first century.