To Whom Much Is Given — A Courageous Progressive Peoples Budget

Terrance Heath

“To whom much is given, much is required.” As he stood with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to present the People’s Budget yesterday, Democratic Minority Whip Hank Johnson echoed the words of John F. Kennedy as he compared the caucus’s budget to Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Kennedy borrowed those words from the Bible, Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. The People’s Budget stands in stark contrast to conservative budget proposals that turn the Kennedy/Luke quote on its head: “To whom much is given, not much is required.

Caucus members underscored this contrast, with particular emphasis on the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. The People’s Budget allows the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire at the end of 2012, but extends marriage relief, credits, and incentives for children, families and education.

It also rescinds the upper-income tax cuts in the December 2010 tax “deal,” and incorporates the higher tax rates on millionaires from Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act, and the progressive estate tax from the Responsible Estate Tax Act consponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, and Sheldon Whitehouse.

Ryan’s budget requires even less of those “to whom much is given.” It cuts the top tax rate from 35% to 25% — the lowest since 1931, back to a level not seen since the “good old days” before Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And, Media Matters’ Jamison Foser pointed out, Ryan wants to cut taxes for corporations which are making huge profits, and some of which aren’t even paying taxes.

As a result, under Ryan’s budget, the government would collect $4 trillion less in revenues over ten years. So, Ryan pays for those tax cuts by passing the costs on to working- and middle-class Americans.,/P.

The People’s Budget increases revenue by $3.9 trillion, cuts primary spending by $869 brillion, cuts total spending by $1.7 trillion, and reduces the deficit by $5.6 trillion. It strengthens Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable earnings. (Something candidate Obama campaigned on.) As an added bonus, it includes something we haven’t seen since 2001 — a budget surplus, this time to the tune of $30.7 billion by 2021.

No wonder the Economic Policy Institute, which analyzed and scored the People’s Budget, called it “a sound alternative to Ryan’s plan.”

The People’s Budget is a long overdue correction of the conservative policies that got us into this mess. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi explains:

The last ten years or so have seen the government send massive amounts of money to people in the top tax brackets, mainly through two methods: huge tax cuts, and financial bailouts. The government has spent trillions of our national treasure bailing out Wall Street, which has resulted directly in enormous, record profit numbers – nearly $100 billion in the last three years (and that doesn’t even count the tens of billions more in inflated compensation and bonuses that came more or less directly from government aid). Add to that the $700 billion or so the Obama tax cuts added to the national debt over the next two years, and we’re looking at a trillion dollars of lost revenue in just a few years.

You push a policy like that in the middle of a shaky economy, of course we’re going to have debt problems. But the issue is being presented as if the debt comes entirely from growth in entitlement spending. It’s bad enough that middle-class taxpayers have been forced in the last few years to subsidize the vacations and beach houses of the idiots who caused the financial crisis, and it’s doubly insulting that they’re now being blamed for the budget mess.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs said of the People’s Budget, “This is the only budget that reflects what the American people really want,” and have said we want in survey after survey.

The fourth position is the public’s position. The Republicans often say that they want Congress to respect the voice of the people. The voice of the people is crystal clear. In one opinion survey after the next, the public says that the rich and the corporations should pay more taxes. The public says that we should tamp down runaway health care costs through a public option, one that would introduce competition to drive down bloated private health insurance costs. The public says that we should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and reduce Pentagon spending. (Just yesterday, Defense Secretary Gates let loose the predictable Pentagon canard that we should stay in Iraq if the Iraqi government asks for it. Better yet, we should respond to what the American people are asking for: to bring our troops home).

The fact is that the People’s Budget is the public’s position. That’s why it is truly a centrist initiative, at the broad center of the U.S. political spectrum. Ryan reflects the wishes of the rich and the far right. Obama’s position reflects the muddle of a White House that wavers between its true values and the demands of the wealthy campaign contributors and lobbyists that Obama courts for his re-election. Many Democrats in Congress have also gone along with the falsehood that deficit cutting means slashing spending on the poor and on civilian discretionary programs, rather than raising taxes on the rich, cutting military spending, and taking on the over-priced private health insurance industry. Only the People’s Budget speaks to the broad needs and values of the American people.

Paul Ryan has been called “courageous” by some in the media, for taking the easy way out by trying to balance the budget on the back of the elderly, the disabled, children, working- and middle-class Americans, and the poor. This is courage?

Standing together, on the side of working- and middle-class Americans are demonstrating what John Kennedy meant by “To whom much is given, much is required”; a meaning spelled out in Kennedy’s “Shining City Upon a Hill” speech.

For of those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us – recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state – our success or failure, in whatever office we may hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage – with the courage to stand up to one’s enemies – and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s associates – the courage to resist public pressure, as well as private greed?

Secondly, were we truly men of judgment – with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past – of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others – with enough wisdom to know that we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?

Third, were we truly men of integrity – men who never ran out on either the principles in which they believed or the people who believed in them – men who believed in us – men whom neither financial gain nor political ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication – with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest.

Courage – judgment – integrity – dedication – these are the historic qualities of the Bay Colony and the Bay State – the qualities which this state has consistently sent to this chamber on Beacon Hill here in Boston and to Capitol Hill back in Washington.

Much is given to our elected representatives — power, trust, and responsibility. What is required, and what members of the Progressive Caucus demonstrate, is courage; real courage.

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