House Speaker John Boehner has announced that Republicans plan to offer another budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chair, for fiscal 2015. Progressives should relish the opportunity to show what a real jobs and growth budget should look like.
That “socialist” President Obama may be in the White House, but for more than three years now we’ve been operating the economy largely under conservative Republican rules. What we have to show for that was – or should have been – clear on Friday, when the Commerce Department announced that fourth quarter economic growth was revised to a slower-than-expected 2.4 percent annual rate, and that the first three months of 2014 will see even slower growth.
That comes on the heels of Congressional Budget Office projections that economic growth will tick only up to about 3 percent for the next couple of years and then “diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades.” Unemployment will remain above 6 percent through at least 2016.
And now Boehner wants House Republicans to put forward another edition of the right-wing economic playbook, which Boehner said offer “real solutions” to, among other things, “create jobs.”
Really? Ryan’s 2013 budget proposal, according to the Economic Policy Institute, would have cost the economy en estimated 2 million jobs if it had been fully implemented, and would have come close to completely stalling economic growth. The federal budget sequester that came along instead did its own damage to economic growth, with the Congressional Budget Office predicting that it would reduce job growth by 750,000 in 2013.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already issued a statement that another Ryan budget proposal was thought to be not in the offing because it would be “politically toxic.” Indeed, as more people understand that it is Republican austerity that has kept the incomes of working people low and unemployment rates high – not the Obama administration policies that have been either blocked or sabotaged or the more progressive proposals that haven’t even been tried – a fed-up populist majority will reject this poison and look for the candidates who offer an effective antidote.
It’s instructive to look at the past two months in the Republican-controlled House as an indicator of where Republican priorities actually lie. Since the House returned from its Christmas recess, it has passed 33 bills. With job creation and stagnant wages being the nation’s most urgent priorities, the House passed legislation that would:
- Require the federal government to submit to Congress detailed weekly reports “that describe the consumer interactions with healthcare.gov,” including the number of “web chat logins” and “the number of enrollees in each zip code.”
- Ban federal funding for abortion and health insurance policies that cover abortion, even though such funding bans already exist.
- Prevent the government from banning the use of lead in bullets and fishing implements, to head off any regulation based on a finding that lead used in hunting and fishing is an environmental toxin.
- Prohibit the Internal Revenue Service “from asking any taxpayer any question regarding religious, political, or social beliefs.” The next day, the House passed a bill that delays until after the 2014 election an IRS process for drafting new regulations for 501(c)(4) organizations,which now can spend heavily on political campaigns without disclosing donors.
- Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which currently operates within the Federal Reserve with significant independence from Congress and the executive branch, by replacing its director with a five-member panel, making its funding subject to the congressional appropriation process and by enabling rulings to be overturned by a simple majority of its board, rather than the current two-thirds.
A full review of the bills passed in January and February show a lot of work on weakening regulations that affect business interests, while creating a lot of make-work for federal agencies that appears designed more to flesh out Fox News narratives than to address a serious public need. But nothing has come to the House floor that would increase economic demand and speed up growth. Nothing has been done to help state and local governments offset the decline in needed public sector jobs; in January 2014 there were 561,000 fewer state and local government workers than there were in January 2008. Nothing has been enacted that would encourage job creation in distressed communities, including the 22 metropolitan areas where the unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent. And let’s not forget that the House did nothing to address the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits in late December, and House leadership is refusing to allow a bill that would increase the minimum wage to come to the House floor for a vote.
Now House Republicans aim to extend this travesty with yet another budget proposal that will further shred safety net programs; further cripple our ability to protect public health, safety, finances and the environment; shut down initiatives that would move us toward alternative energy and away from fossil fuels, and would likely repeat Ryan’s plan to turn much of Medicare into a private insurance voucher program.
It will once again be coated in the rhetoric of unshackling business and unburdening taxpayers, but we now know better, because we’ve seen the fruit of austerity economics: An economy that added on average only about 177,000 new jobs a month during 2013, half of the job creation we need to undo the massive damage the Great Recession did to the job market. We’re closing in on five years after the official end of that recession, and there are still on average three full-time unemployed job seekers for every job opening.
Republicans can’t say with a straight face that they have a jobs agenda that will actually work. But what they have done is convince some people that President Obama and the Democrats are to blame for the results of Republican austerity agenda that the nation has been living under. The only way to undo that is to push a real jobs agenda, in which the federal government leads by putting people to work on shoring up the fundamentals of economic growth, from schools to infrastructure to renewable energy research. In past years, that Progressive Caucus has done the best job of bringing together the elements of a bold jobs agenda with a scope that matches the nature of the jobs crisis.
There will be another Progressive Caucus budget this year to serve as a counterpoint to the Ryan budget. Democrats should use that budget to educate the country about the destructive nature of conservative trickle-down economic policies and the benefits of a progressive agenda of rebuilding the middle class from the bottom up.