By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Amid the cacophony of Donald Trump’s chaos presidency, an alternative movement is building. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary victory over Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) serves as one marker. Another is the progress Bernie Sanders and his allies have made in winning the battle of ideas within the party. A third is the turn of movements such as Black Lives Matter from protest to program and building power. Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus — co-chaired by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) — provided another, publishing the latest edition of “The People’s Budget: A Progressive Path Forward.”
Bolstered by economic analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, the budget provides a compelling alternative direction for this country and a stark contrast to the perverse values and priorities that now dominate our corrupted politics. Yet, in many ways, it is a centrist document, reflecting the common sense and basic priorities of the majority of Americans.
While Republican tax cuts larded most of the benefits on the wealthy and provided only weak stimulus to job growth, the CPC’s budget makes jobs the first priority. Even with top-line unemployment down to 4 percent, the percentage of prime-age workers (25-54) with jobs still has not returned to pre-Great Recession levels. That directly hurts wage growth. The People’s Budget argues that at a time when inequality has reached extreme levels and vital public investments are starved for funds, we should create good jobs by focusing on rebuilding infrastructure, one of the many promises President Trump made and abandoned. The CPC budget calls for $2 trillion over 10 years of public investment in clean water systems, public schools, roads and bridges, mass transit and many other critical domestic needs.
Where Trump and the Republican-led Congress put corporations and the wealthy first, the CPC’s budget is built on a “family first” approach. It invests $1 trillion over 10 years to provide universal child care, expand the child tax credit and the earned-income tax credit, and provide pre-kindergarten for all. It invests in K-12 public education and fulfills the promise of debt-free college. It commits to reducing poverty by half over 10 years, increases the minimum wage, empowers workers to organize and bargain collectively, and addresses pay equity for women. It strengthens the Affordable Care Act that Republicans tried to repeal, and uses the government purchasing power to negotiate reductions in prescription drug costs. It protects Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and rejects the privatization of Veterans Affairs health-care plans. This budget does not call for Medicare for all, although most CPC members endorse it, but it does provide resources to aid states seeking to transition to a single-payer health-care system.
In stark contrast with Trump and the Republican Party’s denial of climate change and commitment to subsidizing Big Oil and coal, the CPC’s plan invests in a smart grid and alternative energy that will address the real and present danger of catastrophic climate change and ensure that the United States leads in what will be one of the core energy sectors and growing global markets of this century.
The increase in public investment requires returning spending on discretionary domestic programs to its historic average of 3.53 percent of gross domestic product . In contrast, Trump’s budget savages domestic programs, slashing spending down to an impossible 1.24 percent of GDP. That would leave America with a Third World public sphere, cede scientific leadership to China, strand the children of low-wage workers in decrepit schools, gut public health and clean air and clean water programs, and starve programs ranging from affordable housing to decent national parks.
Ironically, the People’s Budget accomplishes this rebuilding while reducing the deficits now projected from the Trump White House and House Republican budgets. How? Well, Republicans have slashed taxes on the rich and corporations. The CPC budget would raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, impose a financial transaction tax on Wall Street to curb speculation, end the tax break still offered to corporations that move jobs abroad and tax investors’ income at the same rates as workers’ income. Americans overwhelmingly support making the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. Republicans refuse, openly admitting their donors demand tax cuts. The CPC budget makes our taxes fairer and our investments sensible.
Similarly, the current Congress massively increased an already inflated military budget. The rise in the Pentagon’s budget this year alone is greater than Russia’s entire military spending. The CPC budget would reduce military spending, largely by ending the off-budget spending on ongoing wars, forcing the Pentagon to review wars without end and without victory.
While the House Republicans put forth a budget for 2019, the GOP won’t bother to vote on a budget this year, punting any serious discussion on most spending issues until after the midterms. That leadership failure makes the People’s Budget all the more relevant. If Democrats take back the House in 2018, CPC members will chair 12 committees and 30 subcommittees. They will be able to force a debate about basic priorities and values, and insert many of the budget’s ideas into legislation. And although positioned on the left in Congress, the ideas of putting family first, rebuilding the country, providing good jobs and green energy, and ensuring fair taxation represent the center of American public opinion. In the wake of Trump’s ruinous rule, the People’s Budget may in fact end up providing not simply a marker in the ongoing political debate but also a map for the “progressive path forward.”