Rep. Keith Ellison is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and will be a featured speaker at the Take Back the American Dream conference, being held in Washington, DC from October 3 to 5. The following originally appeared at The Huffington Post.
America has an historic opportunity. We have the chance to address our budget deficit in a manner not seen since President Bill Clinton created a budget surplus in 1999. And if we do it right, we could pave the way for a vibrant American economy based not on gimmicks like giveaways for special interests, but on job creation for working Americans. As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I urge us to avoid a default on the faith and credit of the United States while protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
At every step of the way, Republicans in Washington have blocked a fair plan. The American people are demanding that our government resolves deficits while maintaining our promises to the middle class. Yet, an uncompromising political faction is stonewalling and ignoring the clarion call of this historic moment.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus stands with the American people. Long before Republicans took our economy hostage, we introduced the People’s Budget, the most fiscally responsible deficit plan introduced this year. The People’s Budget would eliminate the deficit in 10 years. Economists across the political spectrum have called it courageous and responsible. Introducing this budget was one of my proudest moments as a Member of Congress, because it shows the power of Progressive policies and values. Creating an economy that reduces deficits and creates jobs is a progressive value, not just a slogan as it is for the Tea Party.
As the People’s Budget has proposed, and the president has affirmed, our solution must reflect the same values that have motivated us historically. We believe in a fiscally healthy America because it leads to an economically healthy America. A balanced budget is critical precisely because it allows us to maintain the services that the middle class depends on. Any deficit deal that takes money away from seniors and American workers who rely on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid undermines the original goal of deficit reduction. Any deficit deal that cuts food stamps but pampers the wealthy is not only bad for the most vulnerable Americans, but damages our fiscal health.
Progressive economic policies lead to a sustainable economy. Americans understand this and history confirms it. Progressive policies implemented since the early 1900s launched America into the modern age and created a vibrant, middle class. Yet, for 10 years, Republicans have given more money to special interests, while the middle class has footed the bill. They passed the biggest tax cut ever for millionaires and billionaires, without paying for a dime of it. They passed a giveaway to the pharmaceutical lobbyists that will cost $1 trillion over 10 years. And it was George W. Bush, not President Obama, who ran roughshod into two unfunded wars, which alone are estimated to have cost us $4 trillion, more than 20% of the deficit.
The stakes are too high now. Republicans have taken us to the brink of default, and it is already hurting our economy. If we do default, the pain our middle class feels would be even worse. Retirement investments would be threatened by plummeting stock prices; higher interest rates would make it more expensive for Americans to pay off credit bills; and the unemployment rate would skyrocket in the face of decreased consumer spending. House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal is less a good-faith effort to avoid a default than an appeal to a narrow sliver of his political base. As Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote yesterday, “[Boehner's plan] could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.” Most worrisome of all, it wastes our opportunity for a long-term solution and stalls progress for another six months. Credit agencies have already hinted Boehner’s plan would not convince them that America is able to pay its bills.
Progressives know this is America’s moment to lead. The deadline is upon us — but so is the opportunity.