by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
May 4, 2011
BIN LADEN'S DEAD. CAN WE END THIS WAR NOW, PLEASE?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It gladdens my heart to hear that Republican members of Congress are getting an earful from their constituents regarding the party's budget priorities.
Quite simply, the Republicans plan to cut the federal deficit by changing Medicare to a voucher system and cutting other government programs while, at the same time, reducing taxes for the wealthy. It is proving to be a difficult plan to sell to voters who are still waiting to see the economy rebound from the ongoing recession on Main Street.
At "town meetings" around the country held during Congress' Easter break, there has been an unexpected - or, at least, unexpected by Republicans - amount of criticism. Even Congressman Paul Ryan, the architect of the GOP budget plan, got booed at a meeting in his Wisconsin district.
Some have compared the outbursts to those we saw two years ago when the health care reform effort by the Obama Administration was just starting.
There is an important difference, though. The "Tea Party" outbursts during the health care debate were orchestrated by conservative political groups and built on lies, i.e., the death panels.
What we're seeing at the Republican town meetings is the collective realization by the 98 percent of Americans who aren't wealthy that the Republicans are out the destroy the middle class.
The outrage over this is not being manipulated by outside groups. This is genuine, real and based on fact.
The problem is that most Americans don't know that there's an alternative to the Republican budget. They don't know that there is a plan that will eliminate the budget deficit in 10 years, while creating new jobs and restoring the economic competitiveness of our country.
It's called "The People's Budget," and it is the product of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). Unlike the Republican budget proposal, it is a spending blueprint that reflects the wishes of the majority of the American people.
Look at the public opinion polls and you will see support for preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. You'll see support for increased spending on education at all levels. You'll see support for increased scientific and medical research.
Most of all, you'll see support for job training, affordable housing, extended unemployment insurance and food stamps, and every other program designed to ease the pain of a jobless economic recovery that has benefited the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
By comparison, the Republican budget would cut spending on all these priorities while maintaining a bloated, out-of-control military budget and the Bush tax cuts -- the two biggest drivers of our federal deficit over the past decade.
The People's Budget is the distillation of the best ideas of progressives. According to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the co-chairman of the CPC, the budget generates a government surplus by 2021 "by closing tax loopholes, ending corporate giveaways to oil, gas and nuclear entities, bringing our troops home, and creating jobs that expand the American tax base. This is a sensible solution that listens to what the American people have said about where our budget priorities should be."
Compared to the torrent of news coverage that Ryan's budget plan has received, the CPC's budget plan has gone almost unnoticed. Given the usual invisibility of progressive ideas in the corporate media, this is not surprising. But there is a lot for people to like in the People's Budget.
Start with taxation. Not only would the Bush tax cuts be eliminated, but new tax brackets for millionaires would be added. Capital gains and dividends would be taxed as ordinary income.
New brackets would be added to the estate tax to progressively tax the largest estates. Itemized deductions for high earners would be limited. A financial speculation tax on derivatives and foreign currency swaps would be created.
The People's Budget targets corporate welfare by eliminating the tax breaks that energy companies are now receiving. It addresses the out-of-control cost increases in health care by adding a public insurance option and instituting negotiation of prescription drug prices in Medicare and Medicaid.
It preserves Social Security by increasing the payroll tax cap to collect 90 percent of earnings on the employee side, and eliminating it on the employer side.
It calls for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a realignment of conventional and strategic forces to reflect the actual security needs of our nation.
No cuts to current social welfare programs are called for in The People's Budget. Instead, it proposes a modest, but sustained, stimulus package of $1.45 trillion to create jobs through education, public infrastructure improvements and increased spending research and development.
So what's the bottom line in this budget? Over 10 years, the deficit would be reduced by $5.6 trillion, and the annual federal budget would be running a modest surplus of $30.7 billion by 2021.
Spending would be cut by $1.7 trillion, while revenues would increase by $3.9 trillion and public investment would get a $1.7 trillion boost.
This is a budget that reflects the values held by most Americans. It is an honest starting point for a discussion of what kind of government we wish to have.
The choice is stark and clear. Do we want the Ryan budget, which guts our social contract to preserve the wealth and power of the well-off? Or the CPC's People's Budget, which maintains the idea that government, in the words of President Obama, helps us "do together what cannot do well for ourselves?"
One thing is clear. Our news media is now so debased that a budget that runs totally contrary to the values of most Americans is praised as "serious," while a competing budget that upholds the notion of the public good is almost totally ignored.
If we want to see real change, Americans must demand that Congress take up the People's Budget, and use it as a blueprint for building the kind of nation we all want to see.
AR Chief of Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.