fresh voices from the front lines of change







Are you in or are you out?

That was George Clooney’s line in Ocean’s 11. Remember? “Tell me, right here … because if you’re out you can go back to feeling up stockbrokers.” Clooney’s movie was a remake of the Rat Pack film made in 1960, back when Democrats were Democrats … and Republicans were pretty much Democrats too.

The Ocean's 11 question is worth asking your Representative today, as the House prepares to vote on the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ “Back to Work” Budget - perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Despite the fact that it will never be enacted, right now the CPC proposal is the most important budget battle in the country. It's the only plan that makes economic sense, the only plan that fully reflects the best of our nation, the only plan that represents the public's will.

We won't have a functioning democracy until more of our representatives stand up for the principles in this document. That's why every Representative's vote for this budget matters. It's why each member of the House, and each of us, needs to stand up and be counted.

The CPC budget is smart, effective, and practical, creating up to seven million jobs while reducing the Federal deficit by $4.4 trillion. And yet it’s being marginalized by the press and dismissed by leaders of the CPC’s own Democratic Party.  Its provisions are enormously popular with voters across the political spectrum. And yet in Washington’s insular world of self-fulfilling prophecies we’re told that this budget is unimportant because “it will never pass.”

The only way to change that political equation is by changing the definition of 'mainstream.' That begins by holding each and every elected official in Washington accountable, putting this budget before them and asking that very simple question:

Are you in or are you out?

Waste or Investment?

The CPC budget begins by recognizing what most sensible economists understand: A lingering recessionary economy like ours needs an up-front jolt of public investment. (The first one wasn’t big enough.) It invests $2.1 trillion in public investment and jobs growth, with $700 billion in its first twelve months.

That sounds like a lot until we compare it to the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which, as Bill Moyers notes, may be as much as $4.4 trillion (plus another trillion in interest). Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that it will take another $3 trillion just to cover the overall cost of medical care for wounded soldiers.

Next to that, $2.1 trillion to restore our damaged economy is a bargain. The budget would create an estimated 6.9 million jobs, cut wasteful Pentagon spending, reduce Medicare costs by ending corporate giveaways, modestly increase tax levels for high- and ultra-high-income Americans, and assess Wall Street for its excessive risk-tasking behavior.

It reduces the deficit in part because its up-front expenditures are an investment, not a military waste of money (or, far more tragically, of lives).

The Joblessness Crisis

We’re in the midst of a lingering joblessness crisis,an emergency for million, and are barely making headway.  In January there were 3.3 unemployed people for each job opening. “U6” – the best measure of real unemployment – now stands at 14.3 percent, six points or more above what it was before Wall Street crashed the economy in 2007-2008. The current “jobs gap” – the number of jobs needed to bring us to pre-recession employment levels - is 8.9 million.

Another critical measure of the jobs situation is the employment-to-population (EPOP) ratio. As Dean Baker writes, the EPOP is still 4.5 points below what it was before the recession and is only 0.4 percent above its lowest level. Worse, it hasn’t changed for the past year.

Even our “best” job-creating months barely dent this lingering jobs crisis. Every month it goes on, people suffer: Millions of young people see their lifetime earnings fall.  Minority communities fall further behind their white counterparts. Neighborhoods and cities fall into disrepair … and despair.

A Smarter Economy

The Republican budget is an exercise in economic flim-flammery, dosed with pseudo-technical gibberish so meaningless it makes alchemical incantations look like particle physics.  Proposals from the White House and Senate Dems, are timid, water-downed, and lacking in clarity, offering little more than Band-Aids for our economic wounds.

Only the “Back to Work” budget moves aggressively to break the cycle of economic decline caused by excessive spending cuts, leading us out of that fiscal black hole the IMF calls “the austerity trap” (explained in plain English by Paul Krugman here).

The CPC’s budget calls for increased education spending - which is only fair to the young people who have suffered disproportionately from the mistakes of their elders. Education’s also an investment in future economic growth.

The “Back to Work” budget’s infrastructure investments won’t just create jobs. They’ll also give us better and safer schools, bridges, highways, and power grids. Studies commissioned by the Society of Civil Engineers show that they’ll also save trillions of dollars.

The budget invests in clean energy, does more to aid the poor, and advances other important social goals. It relies on tax measures economists describe as “Pigovian,” which assess the societal impact of behavior like polluting the environment.  Don’t get put off by a word like “Pigovian.” All that really means is that people should pay for cleaning up their own messes, especially when they’re getting very, very rich doing it.

Energy magnates like the Koch brothers hate it when that happens. Everybody else should love it.

Closing the Fairness Gap

Corporatist politicians havehelped the wealthiest among us accumulate ever-greater amounts of our national income, at great cost to the middle class, the impoverished, and the overall economy.  Meanwhile the wealthy are paying less and less in taxes, adding to an artificially-inflated "deficit panic" fueled by special-interest groups and cynical politicians unwilling to take the most obvious step to alleviate those deficits: tax increases for the wealthy.

Republicans’ recent and much-vaunted tax “concessions” are another hidden assault on the middle class. When they say they’ll consider closing “loopholes” and ending “tax expenditures,” they’re using euphemisms for hitting the wallets of non-wealthy Americans - by reducing or ending deductions like employer-based health insurance, home mortgage interest, and child tax credits – so the wealthiest can pay.

The “Back to Work” budget addresses the Great Wealth Grab by ending regressive tax measures which hurt the middle class. It also implements the Making Work Pay tax credit, which replaces the payroll tax ‘holiday’ for lower-income and middle-class working people without the ‘holiday’s’ inbuilt regressivities (and without the threat it posed to Social Security’s fiscal independence).

It (rather modestly) raises the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans - to 45 percent for income above $1 million per year, rising incrementally to 49 percent for income above $1 billion. It would also end the home mortgage interest deduction … for yachts. (And for vacation homes.)

A Popular Plan

Politicians and pundits tell us these ideas are too “fringe” and unpopular to pass … or they would tell us that, if this budget weren’t being subjected to a near-total news blackout.  They’re wrong. My colleague Dave Johnson pulled together survey data on individual elements of the “Back to Work” budget, and the figures are impressive:

  • 95 percent said jobs should be the government’s top priority;
  • 90 percent supported greater energy investment;
  • 66 percent said the wealthiest Americans should be taxed more;
  • 52 percent agreed “we should invest more now in education, infrastructure and technology”;
  • the same percentage agreed that “spending money on projects like roads, bridges and technology development”;
  • 65 percent supported a carbon tax.

There’s more, but you get the idea.

Middle of the Road

As we said, at most points during past century this would have been a mainstream, sensible, centrist plan.  Dwight Eisenhower would have had no problem signing it. After all, he built the Federal highway system, funded the expansion of education, started the Sputnik space program, and governed when the top tax rate for millionaires was 91 percent.

Richard Nixon, who proposed a guaranteed minimum income for all Americans, would have been comfortable with it too. Even George W. Bush had no problem signing a $286.4 billion infrastructure bill – and that was before the jobs crisis.

Personally, I’d have gone farther in some parts of the bill, putting the top tax rate at 70 percent or so and targeting an unemployment rate even lower than this bill’s 5 to 5.6 percent. But as we were saying: this budget's mainstream.

That’s why it’s important that every single Democrat on the Hill vote for it. Popular, smart, fair proposals like this won’t become “politically feasible” until more politicians vote for them – and fight for them.  The majority will remain marginalized in Washington until more politicians stand up for it.

Go Time

Isaiah Poole has helpfully assembled contact information for 124 Democratic House members whose votes are needed to build momentum for a common-sense economic agenda in Washington.  They need to hear from constituents who'll tell them it’s “go time" for economic action. (If your Representative's a Republican, don't feel left out. You can go here and tell them to reject their party's extremist economic assault on government, otherwise known as the "Ryan budget.")

But if you're represented by one of the 124 Democrats listed above, let them know how you feel. Tell them they can’t be all “Democrat-y” about this, waffling and shading and nuancing. Tell them they can’t call that hedge fund executive who says he’ll have a job for them someday. (Clooney: “If you’re out, you can go back to feeling up stockbrokers.”) They can’t discuss it over drinks with their favorite ex-Clinton staffer, or wait for a white paper from Larry Summers, or see how their peers behave before making a commitment.

When the roll is called, they’ll either do the right thing or they won’t. Tell them: It’s go time. Contact your Representative's office and ask that all-important question:

Are you in or are you out?


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