The Congressional Progressive Caucus releases a federal budget proposal today that, if it were fully enacted, is projected to create almost 9 million jobs over the next three years.
As a statement of values as well as policy, the Caucus' proposal – called "The Better Off Budget" – is a loud and audacious rebuke to conservative austerity economics. As the previous caucus budgets have sought to do, it seeks to put forward bold policies that match the severity of the problems facing working-class Americans. It also sets up the debates we should be having about how to rebuild the economy so that it works for more than just a handful of people at the top. It spells out in blunt detail what it would take to make beleaguered Americans struggling in today's economy "better off."
It is a sharp contrast to the budget expected to be introduced in early April from House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which – if it stays true to what he has introduced in the past – will seek more cuts to basic safety-net programs, continue the choking off of investments in our public infrastructure, and peddle more failed trickle-down strategies of reducing tax and regulatory obligations for the wealthiest while doing less to support the economic struggles of working-class Americans.
Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) led today's budget introduction at the Capitol. From there they and other caucus members will take advantage of next week's recess to build grassroots support. It is expected to face a vote in the House in late April or in May.
Closing The Jobs Gap
The budget brings together a number of policy imperatives that its members, with support from groups such as the Campaign for America's Future, have pursued in the past year, with the goal of rapidly closing the gap between where the economy is today and where it would it been had the Great Recession not happened.
The Economic Policy Institute has been keeping a running tally of the jobs shortfall caused by the recession, which as of the latest employment report released by the Labor Department earlier this month stood at 7.5 million jobs. To close that gap by 2017, and to ensure that new entrants to the workforce can find work, the economy should be producing on average more than 244,000 jobs a month, well above the average of 183,000 jobs a month that the economy produced in 2013. If job growth reached that higher level, the unemployment rate, now 7.3 percent, would come down to about 5.5 percent, the Better Off Budget goal.
The budget calls for a series of big job-creation steps. They include a much larger commitment to spending on transportation and water projects than President Obama has put forward, and aid to state and local governments that would be used to replace teaching and other public sector positions that were cut since the beginning of the recession. There would be more spending to help the long-term unemployment obtain training for new jobs.
As have previous Progressive Caucus budgets, such as last year's "Back to Work Budget," this latest proposal will seek to fund its extra spending through closing corporate tax loopholes, taxing dividends and capital gains at the same rate as wages, and through higher taxes on persons making more than $1 million. It also includes a carbon tax, structured to minimize the burden on low-income families. But it would offer working families earning less than $190,000 a year a "Hard Work Tax Credit" of up to $1,200.
While the primary focus of the Better Off Budget is not deficit reduction, the budget would in fact reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, largely through revenues generated as a result of increased economic activity. That is precisely how deficits should be reduced – in the long term, as a result of smart spending to grow the economy quickly.
Will This Budget Get Its Due?
The typical impulse in Washington political and media circles is to treat the Progressive Caucus budget as a fanciful, out-of-left-field wish list. That is even with the assessments of mainstream economists that the policy prescriptions like those put forward by the Progressive Caucus are the most sensible responses to today's slow-growth economy.
When the budget is formally released, progressive activists should make two demands.
The first is of the media. The Progressive Caucus budget proposals deserve to be taken at least as seriously as the proposals being put forth by Ryan and his colleagues in the Republican House. Last year, that didn't happen. The country needs a real discussion of its choices – to continue the tortuous, slow-growth policies borne out of conservative obstruction that are worsening income inequities or the smarter, pro-growth, full-employment policies embodied by the Progressive Caucus. Mainstream media obstructs that discussion when it does not fully inform the electorate of all of the policy options on the table.
The second is of members of Congress, including the Progressive Caucus' fellow Democrats. Democrats know that the Progressive Caucus's policies would move the country in the right direction, but many will vote against the budget out of fear that they will be smeared with the old "tax-and-spend" label in their districts. These members should know that thousands of Democrats in their districts want their members to cast a vote in favor of the bold policies in the Caucus budget. One way to register support is to become a "citizen sponsor" of the Caucus budget. Other ways to persuade members to vote for the Better Off Budget will be announced in the coming days.
This is more than a budget proposal, and it is not some political game. This is about whether we are going to produce nearly 9 million jobs over the next three years and finally fix the damage done to the economy by conservative economic policies. Too many people have suffered too long under austerity economics, and is it past time for a change.