Budget Vote Outcome Doesn’t End The Debate Over Our Economic Priorities

Isaiah J. Poole

As expected, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Better Off Budget” was defeated on the House floor Wednesday, picking up only 89 Democratic votes and none from Republicans. But that vote does not end the fight for the priorities and values that budget document embraces.

The battle over the principles and policies in that budget, contrasted against those elements in the federal budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that will be voted on the House floor today, will continue all the way through the November elections. It must, for the millions upon millions of Americans who suffer the effects of a slow-growth economy.

When Ryan comes to the well of the House today to speak on behalf of what he calls “The Path to Prosperity,” he will be signing Republicans onto a plan for the future of the American economy that is strikingly out of touch with how the real world works and what real people want.

As Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said on the House floor Wednesday, this is an old story.

“Our Republican colleagues have been saying for 100 years that if we don’t regulate; if we don’t have good, fair rules for health and safety and in our financial markets and in other areas of the economy; and if we don’t tax people, the wealthy and corporations, then our economy will take off. … They were saying this back in the ’30s, and thank God the American people didn’t listen to them.”

As Ellison said, it was the government spending and regulation of the New Deal that set the stage for an expanding economy of the post-World War II era. It was the decisions to implement the core precepts embodied by the Ryan budget – less regulation, deep tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and the weakening of the economic security protections for working-class people – that set the stage for the past three decades of a shrinking middle class and the widening gulf between the fortunes of the rich and everyone else.

The best attack lines that Republican critics of the Better Off Budget could levy was that it increases spending, it increases taxes and that it does not balance the budget.

In fact, these are its virtues. The Progressive Caucus’ budget follows the basic prescription that an economy still recovering from a devastating recession needs a push from government to boost economic demand. That means taking actions that will put people back to work quickly and allow people to have money in their pockets.

The cost of the Better Off Budget would be covered by asking the wealthiest among us to sacrifice the loopholes and dodges that allow the rich to pay taxes at lower rates than the people who work for them. These tax breaks let some of our most profitable corporations escape paying federal taxes altogether.

Its policies would support the creation of up to 9 million new jobs over the next three years, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That would close the gap between where the job market is today and where it would have been had the misguided economic policies of the 1990s and 2000s not set the stage for the Great Recession.

The Ryan budget, on the other hand, wouldn’t increase federal spending on job creation efforts by one dime. In fact, by making spending cuts that would slow economic growth, enacting the Ryan budget would cost the economy 3 million jobs over the next two years, the Economic Policy Institute says.

Plus, the tax cuts Ryan’s budget would lavish on the wealthiest Americans average $200,000, according to
Citizens for Tax Justice, while many programs that millions of middle-class and low-income Americans rely on would be cut dramatically.

It is the Better Off Budget that would actually give the country a federal deficit that’s under control through the fruits of economic growth. It accomplishes that feat by ensuring that the tax burden is shared equitably.

The Populist Majority website notes that broad majorities — between 65 percent and 80 percent, depending on the poll — believe that job creation and economic growth should be the government’s top priority.

Roughly three out of four Americans agree that we should be asking the wealthy to surrender their tax loopholes and shelters to help reduce the deficit rather than asking seniors to give up inflation adjustments to Social Security or the sick to sacrifice Medicare and Medicaid benefits. And the broad majority of Americans supports increasing spending on the things that matter — such as the roads and transit systems we travel on and the schools where our children are taught.

After today’s vote, themes from the Ryan budget will be sliced into talking points and bumper-sticker slogans by Republican candidates as the nation lurches into the midterm elections.

Those slices, once reassembled, won’t add up to the values and priorities of most Americans. What this majority is looking for is simple: to get back to an economy in which people can get decent jobs and where we all feel we have an opportunity to do well.

The Better Off Budget has audacious, but common-sense, answers that voters would find compelling. Eighty-nine Democrats have cast a vote for those answers. All we need now is for more congressional candidates to start embracing them.

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