In poll after poll Americans consistently list the economy and joblessness as the most important problems facing this country, far ahead of the deficit. Solid majorities of Americans also oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, Planned Parenthood, the EPA, healthcare and education. Indeed, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, the only aspect of President Obama’s deficit reduction plan that enjoys strong support is his proposal to raise taxes on the rich. And yet the debate in Washington seems to be taking place in an alternate universe—one defined by Representative Paul Ryan’s radical and mean scheme to eviscerate the government on one end, and by President Obama’s plan to shrink it by one of the largest annual spending cuts in history on the other. Neither is a progressive—or popular—option, but too few inside the Beltway seem to be listening to the people they were elected to represent.
Fortunately, the eighty-three members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) are. On April 14, they introduced a “People’s Budget” as an alternative to President Obama’s center-right and Representative Ryan’s far-right proposals. The People’s Budget is exactly what a robust populist agenda should look like. It protects the social safety net, promotes a progressive tax policy, reintroduces a public option for healthcare and makes significant cuts to the Pentagon by bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. It makes millionaires, billionaires and corporations pay their fair share while protecting the poor and middle class. Plus, it actually generates a budget surplus by 2021, according to CPC co-chair Representative Raúl Grijalva.
But even though the CPC is the largest Democratic caucus in Congress, its People’s Budget was ignored by establishment Democrats and the mainstream media. And it was snidely dismissed by pundits like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who didn’t say much about its policies but seemed to have a beef with the word “people” because it reminds him of China.
That is a shame, because the People’s Budget is exactly the kind of common-sense economic agenda our president should be advocating. Instead, he’s taking to the road to sell his deficit reduction plan to voters in Nevada and California. Those states also happen to be the epicenter of our jobs crisis; more than one in five residents there don’t have enough work, the highest rates in the nation. In Nevada, one in every thirty-five homes is in foreclosure, also the highest rate in the nation. California is facing a record budget shortfall of at least $25 billion, forcing schools, parks, libraries and even police and fire departments to shut down. Nothing coming out of official Washington—not Obama’s austerity-lite deficit plan and certainly not Ryan’s slashonomics—does a thing to alleviate these catastrophes.
But the solutions are out there, and they are creative and serious. They can be found in the CPC’s People’s Budget; in the inspiring work of US Uncut, the direct-action group, seeded in the pages of The Nation, that targets corporate tax dodgers and thus shifts the debate away from its narrow-minded focus on spending cuts toward finding new sources of revenue; in the astute writings of Keynesian economists who can’t seem to get a job at the White House; and in the streets of Wisconsin and Ohio, where workers have risen up to protect their right to organize and to demand a better deal. If only Washington would put its ear to the ground and listen.