fresh voices from the front lines of change







House Budget chairman Paul Ryan’s budget resolution has been rightly condemned by anyone who cares about economic recovery, Medicare, Medicaid, public investment, programs for the poor and disadvantaged, tax justice, and just plain honesty in budgeting. The Huffington Post has been full of good analysis – see this great piece by R.J. Eskow. The House Progressive Caucus even put out this video taking apart what will undoubtedly be the lock-step Republican approach to long austerity budgeting.

The House Democrats, even most Blue Dogs, will vote together against this monstrosity.
There is a real chance for a clear contrast between the parties.

But what about the Senate Democrats? Far too many, like the famous gang of three (Senators Conrad, Durbin and Warner), have been negotiating a “compromise” that might take the Democrats over to the dark side.

That’s why a new statement by Senate Budget chair Kent Conrad is surprisingly encouraging. Released today (April 5), here is the heart of what he had to say about the Ryan plan:

“Representative Ryan’s proposal is partisan and ideological. He provides dramatic tax cuts for the wealthiest, financed by draconian reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. His proposals are unreasonable and unsustainable.

“His plan is most troubling because it lacks balance. A balanced long-term deficit reduction plan would include discretionary spending cuts, including defense; entitlement changes; and tax reform that simplifies the tax code, lowers rates, and raises revenue. That is what the President’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission proposed. Representative Ryan’s plan, on the other hand, fails to include savings in defense and actually reduces revenue. The result is that his plan relies on deep cuts in the safety net for seniors, children, and other vulnerable populations, as well as deep cuts in critical areas like education, which are needed to promote long-term economic growth.

“I am also concerned about his proposals to replace Medicare with a voucher program and to block grant Medicaid. These steps would simply shift costs and increase the number of uninsured. The President’s Fiscal Commission rejected both of these measures and chose instead to build on the savings proposals and delivery system changes in last year’s health reform.

The rest of Conrad’s statement goes on to praise the deficit commission as a model for budget balancing, not a sentiment most Democrats would echo. But the basic gift that Conrad may be giving Democrats is the opportunity for unity against draconian austerity and for a rousing defense of Medicare and Medicaid.

Every group imaginable is working to make sure the whole country knows what the House plan for next year’s budget (and the decade after that) would do to our economy, to our social contract (Medicare, Medicaid, education and more). And, thanks to Ryan’s rigid and extreme ideological vision, now publicly embraced by the Republican party, the 2012 elections are shaping up to give the country reason to repudiate extreme conservatism and embrace a progressive vision of investment in job creation and robust defense of those public programs that most Americans (even tea party rank and file) want Democrats to defend.

I never thought I’d have the opportunity to thank Senator Kent Conrad for helping to unify his fellow Democrats against Republican excess. Ryan gets some of the credit, but I’m happy to praise Senator Conrad, whose finest hour before retirement could be to help rally his party to fight Ryan’s frontal attack on the American middle class. Now, let’s get to work and urge his Senate colleagues to be even tougher. And let’s urge Sen. Conrad to incorporate his criticisms of Ryan into a Senate budget resolution we can all support.

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