by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 20, 2014
THE 'BETTER OFF BUDGET' DESERVES A FAIR HEARING IN CONGRESS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- For the fourth straight year, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has put out a sensible, honest budget plan.
And for the fourth straight year, the CPC's budget blueprint will be ridiculed by conservatives, mostly ignored by the corporate press, and will be consigned to legislative oblivion.
But the "Better Off Budget" deserves a better fate. It is an attempt to blow up the austerity mindset that has crippled the nation ever since the Great Recession began five years ago. It rightly puts job growth ahead of deficit reduction, yet still succeeds in reducing both the deficit and economic inequality.
Among the provisions in the CPC budget: repeal sequestration, restore money cut from the food stamp program, renew the extended unemployment program, create a public option for health care, spend $820 billion on new and upgraded public infrastructure, cut back on unneeded military spending, increase Social Security payments, and provide a tax credit for individuals earning less than $95,000 a year and for couples earning less than $120,000.
To pay for it: a higher tax on securities transactions, higher taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, a raise in the top tax rate from 39.5 percent to 49 percent, a repeal of $118 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies between now and 2024, and a tax on polluters of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions - a tax that would increase 5.6 percent a year - while rebating 25 percent of all revenues as refundable credits to low-income families.
There's nothing new or earth- shattering in this plan; this is just common-sense budgeting. If anything, according to Robert Borosage at the Campaign for America's Future, the CPC budget is too modest in its goals.
"The CPC budget is a bold statement that explodes the limits of the current debate. But it is only a first step. It moves towards but does not fulfill the Economic Bill of Rights President Roosevelt promised in World War II. It boldly raises taxes, but would collect only 21.5 percent of GDP in [tax] revenues by 2024 (up from a little more than 17 percent now). It makes essential investments, but essentially allows spending to expand only with the economy (from 22.7 percent in fiscal year 2014 to 22.9 percent in fiscal 2024). Even with state revenues and spending added in, America would remain far below the European level of social provision."
Private opulence and public squalor is now the politically acceptable norm in America. I was struck by the irony of this year's arrival of the CPC budget and the silence that surrounds its annual appearance, and the death last week of longtime Labour Party stalwart Tony Benn, a Briton who, if he were heading the Democrats in this country, would have done a lot more to keep liberalism from sliding into irrelevance.
In writing about Benn's death, Gary Younge, a columnist for the Guardian in the UK and The Nation on the this side of the Atlantic, summed up his life:
"His primary loyalty was not to a party but to the causes of internationalism, solidarity and equality, which together provided the ethical compass for his political engagement. ... He advocated for the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich and labor against capital. He believed that we were more effective as human beings when we worked together collectively than when we worked against each other as individuals.
Such principles have long been threatened with extinction in British politics. Benn did a great deal to keep them alive. In the face of media onslaught and political marginalization, that took courage. And, in so doing, he encouraged us," Younge wrote.
Benn, who died at the age of 88, watched the Labour Party devolve from the left-wing party of the working class to a center-right party comfortable with privatization and free market economics.
It was a shift not unlike what the Democratic Party went through in the 1980s and 1990s, with President Bill Clinton - a product of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council - bookending "New Labour" Prime Minster Tony Blair as the inheritors of watered-down political parties that renounced their core principles for short-term electoral gain. When Democrats started chasing the same pots of money that the Republcans draw from, the party fell apart.
That's why even though the CPC is the largest Democratic caucus in Congress, there are still too many Democrats who will ignore the the "Better Off Budget" for fear of being pilloried by the right, even though many of its provisions are popular with a majority of voters and constitute a clear choice against the slash- and-burn policies of the Republicans.
I've written about these CPC budgets for the past four years, and still, we remain far away from electing a Congress that would even consider a budget plan like this one, let along enact it into law. We currently have a House of Representatives that is run by a political party that wants to lay waste to the public sphere, buoyed by enormous amount of money available to thwart democracy and fairness at every turn.
A majority of Americans want to see an increase in the minimum wage. They want to see more spent on health care and education. They want the roads and bridges and water lines and electric grids upgraded. They want to see the gap between the very rich and the very poor narrowed. And the Democrats that turn their backs on these issues, and continue to abandon the working class, will be losers in November.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning 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.