By Michael Hiltzik
It's unsurprising if most Americans can't understand why job growth and economic expansion have been so lackluster since the Great Recession. It's because the country is still carrying around the dead weight of the sequester and other budget constraints passed in 2011 and imposed in earnest last year.
The idea that the government shouldn't invest for job creation and economic growth has been a roadblock in the way of infrastructure construction, expanded preschool programs, and the rehiring of laid-off schoolteachers, police officers and firefighters. It's why Washington's best ideas for cutting the budget include taking food off the tables of the needy, leaving the unemployed to fend for themselves, and nickel-and-diming the disabled.
Today the 84-member Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled its better idea, a budget resolution that restores the sequester cuts and calls for $820 billion in infrastructure spending through 2024. As caucus co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told us, the goal is to steal a march on the GOP budget likely to be unveiled as early as next week by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
"There's going to be a contrast," Grijalva says. "Ryan's going to put his up, with the same policies as before and with an increased level of shaming of the poor."
That's a good guess. Appearing this morning on former Education Secretary Bill Bennett's radio program, Ryan launched into a spiel about a "tailspin of culture in our inner-cities ... of generations of men not even thinking about working." (The recording was made and posted by the Center for American Progress' Thinkprogress.org blog.)
Grijalva argues that it's important to move the fiscal policy debate off its slant in favor of continued austerity, and toward more investment. The president's budget, which leaves huge swatches of the sequester in place, doesn't do the job.
The budget proposal says it would increase jobs by 8.8 million by 2017, which technically would bring the country back to full employment. The economic growth it projects would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. Like the Ryan budget, it's a dream plan (last year's version got 85 votes in the House, all Democratic). Unlike the Ryan budget (we're judging from previous Ryan budgets) it will ask the wealthiest members of society--those who have benefited the most from the recovery, such as it is--to shoulder a larger share of the costs of growing the economy, rather than squeezing the disabled, the elderly, parents of preschoolers, and laid-off schoolteachers and other public employees.
As is the case with most budget plans, they don't represent concrete, line-by-line spending plans, but rather visions of what America should be. Take your choice.