The Budget Vote: Who Stands With the Middle Class?

Robert Borosage

As early as today, the members of the House of Representatives will choose.  At a time of mass unemployment and slow growth, they will vote for more austerity or for more jobs.  At a time of Gilded Age inequality, they will decide whether the rich bear too large a burden or too little, whether working families have too many services or too few.  They will choose whether health care should be provided only to those who can afford it or to all.  They will decide if poor children receive too much assistance or too little.

These choices will be made in votes on two budget plans: Rep. Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget.  These two offer starkly contrasting priorities for America, reflecting dramatically different values.  The Middle Class Scorecard of the Campaign for America’s Future will score these votes.

A vote FOR Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” is a vote AGAINST the middle class.

A vote FOR the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Back to Work Budget” is a vote FOR the middle class.

These votes will be part of the Middle Class Scorecard that CAF and its allies will take into congressional districts across the country in 2014, making certain that voters know who stood with the middle class and who stood in its way.

To join us in calling on legislators to vote against the Ryan budget and for the CPC Back to Work budget, go here.

The Stakes for the Middle Class

Ryan’s budget is a bare-knuckled assault on the middle class and on those who seek to join it.  It would savage Medicaid, repeal Obamacare, and turn Medicare into a voucher providing less coverage over time.  An estimated 40 million to 50 million Americans will be deprived of health coverage that they might otherwise have.  At the same time, the Ryan budget slashes taxes on the wealthiest Americans – offering millionaires an estimated minimum average tax break of $200,000 a year – while demanding deep cuts in government services that middle- and low-income families depend on.

Ryan is not candid enough to identify what he would cut in detail, but he calls for cutting domestic programs that receive annual congressional appropriations to their lowest levels on record.  Inevitably, areas vital to our economic future – aid to education, worker training, research and development – will be cut deeply.  Support for the vulnerable – infant nutrition, Head Start’s preschool programs, affordable housing – will be decimated.  Food stamps and Pell grants and other mandated programs will be rolled back.  And essential services – food and drug and workplace safety inspection, environmental protection, clean air and water – will be weakened.  An estimated two thirds of Ryan’s “savings” will come from programs for low- and moderate income people.  If it were passed, the Ryan budget would worsen America’s Gilded Age inequality and accelerate the hollowing out of the middle class.

In contrast, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget offers legislators what is likely to be the only chance to vote for a serious plan for jobs and growth this year.  The CPC would invest now in areas vital to our future while putting people back to work – in modernizing our decrepit infrastructure, in aid to states to rehire teachers and cops, in rebuilding dilapidated schools.  It would add special programs for the young in distressed areas – establishing green corps and jobs corps – that will put young people to work rather than abandoning them to despair, depression and drugs. The Economic Policy Institute projects these policies would create 7 million new jobs in the first year alone. 

Then, once the economy is moving, the CPC would pay for its promises, with a range of progressive taxes. It closes down egregious tax breaks for companies moving jobs or reporting profits abroad; it creates new higher tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires; it would tax the income of investors at the same rate as that of workers, something last accomplished by Ronald Reagan.  It also imposes taxes that help build our economy – a financial transaction tax to limit Wall Street speculation and a carbon tax to help accelerate our transition to clean energy, and recapture a lead in the green industrial revolution that will create the growth markets of the future.

No legislator will agree with everything in this (or any) budget.  But the CPC Back to Work Budget is the most responsible – and the most candid – proposal before the Congress.  If passed, it would help make this economy work for working people, and help insure that we make the investments vital to rebuilding a broad middle class.

The two budgets represent a choice.  One path favors the few and the multinationals in the hope that their wealth and profits will trickle down to the rest of us.  The other path invests in people and in areas vital to our future while asking the wealthy to pay a fair share of taxes and holding multinational banks and corporations accountable.  For the middle class, the choice is clear.

And the American people agree.  Poll after poll reveals that the priorities of the majority of Americans are reflected in the CPC budget and essentially trampled by Ryan’s budget.  Americans believe that jobs are vital.  They believe the wealthy should pay more in taxes; that corporations that create jobs here should gain support, not those that ship jobs abroad.  They want the basic pillars of family security – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security – protected, not cut.  Broad majorities oppose cuts in education and in services for the most vulnerable.

Join us in calling on legislators to vote against the Ryan budget and for the CPC Back to Work budget.  In only a matter of a few days, more than 85,000 people have joined this effort.  CAF and TheMiddleClass.org will publish the complete vote on both measures as soon as they are available.   Your representatives in the House are about to decide if they stand with the middle class or against it.  We must insure that they are held accountable for that choice.

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