By John Nichols
A proper budget is a moral document, which well expresses the values and aspirations of a civil society.
As such, the measure of any budget is its combination of fiscal and social responsibility.
By this measure, there was only one proper budget proposal floated in the current Congress. And it did not get very far.
Only ninety-six House Democrats voted Wednesday for the People’s Budget, as it was proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The budget was opposed by 330 House members, including eighty-six shame-on-them Democrats and 244 Republicans.
The record of Wednesday’s roll call is worth reviewing, especially because it identifies the Democrats who got this most important vote wrong.
Of course, no one expected the People’s Budget to be enacted. But that is not a poor reflection on the CPC plan, which better met the tests of fiscal and social responsible than any of the other official or alternative proposals that are currently in play. It is a reflection on this Congress, which cannot get anything right, and on a political process that is now so flawed—because of gerrymandering, big money and failed media—that the United States ends up with, well, this Congress.
Despite the fact that if it was not expected to prevail, the People’s Budget was serious.
Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the House Budget Committee and as vice chair of the CPC noted, it sought to address the fundamental issue of our time—inequality—with a focus on “leveling the economic playing field by increasing wages for middle- and low-income workers.”
The People’s Budget proposed the only approach that can work: Start by first asking the wealthy to pay their fair share and making smart cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget, and then use the money to invest in repairing infrastructure repair and expansion, in upgrading energy systems to address climate and providing for debt-free college, workforce training and small businesses expansion. This is a job-creation, investment and growth agenda, as opposed to the austerity and stagnation budgets of Paul Ryan, the former House Budget Committee chairman who now chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
Above all, the People’s Budget recognized that, as CPC co-chair Keith Ellison explained, “Too many working Americans open their paychecks each week and ask themselves how they will make ends meet by [with a plan to] fully fund childhood health, education and affordable housing to help working families stretch their paychecks [and] a blueprint of proven investments to end grinding poverty, promote economic mobility and enable shared prosperity.”
That prospect is what was lost when the House rejected the People’s Budget.
Susan Harley of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division was right when she said after the House vote that “Congress should have passed the People’s Budget.”
“The People’s Budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) was a better alternative to the budget resolution approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives and should have received a majority vote,” she explained. “By focusing on policies like fairer corporate taxation as a way to pay for spending on essential government services such as improved health care and public financing of elections, the People’s Budget would have put America on a clearer path to a more just and democratic society.”
The People’s Budget also would have instituted a tax on Wall Street trades, known as a financial transaction tax, which is a commonsense way to both increase revenue and calm markets now plagued with volatile high-frequency trading.
The People’s Budget also called for important changes to our tax code, such as ending deferral on foreign-made profits of U.S. companies and limiting the ability of companies to invert and reincorporate in a foreign jurisdiction to avoid their fair share of taxes.
Though it did not garner majority support in the McConnell-Boehner, corporate-controlled 114th Congress, it surely would win majority support from the American people.
And, of course, in a democracy that is the final measure of a proper budget.