A conversation with a Senate Democratic aide Thursday persuaded me that I shortchanged Sen. Patty Murray's budget in an important way.
On Wednesday, I criticized Murray's budget because neither its spending cuts nor its tax increases are specified. But to evaluate it in terms of its spending cuts and tax increases, the aide argued, is to miss Murray's point, which is that Ryan's framework, in which deficit reduction stands above all, is the wrong framework.
"The highest priority of the Senate Budget is to create the conditions for job creation, economic growth, and prosperity built from the middle out, not the top down," writes Murray.
The Senate Democrats' budget expresses this principle in two ways. First, there's a $100 billion infrastructure package to create jobs. Second, the slower path of deficit reduction, and the heavy reliance on tax increases, allows Murray (D-Wash.) to protect education, research, and various other economically important investments -- as well as expanding a few programs along the way.
Murray's budget is, in fact, much more specific about the spending it would expand than the spending it would cut. The Child Care Development and Block Grant gets a boost, as does the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, and the budget envisions the creation of an infrastructure bank.
The approach stands in stark contrast to the Ryan budget. Wednesday, I wrote that if we got education, infrastructure and health care right, many of our economic problems would solve themselves. Ryan's budget requires deep cuts in education and infrastructure, and he repeals the Affordable Care Act, interrupting both the efforts to cover almost all Americans and to control costs across the health-care system. The sequester, too, does terrible damage to education and infrastructure. Compared to these alternatives, Murray's budget is very protective of these priorities.
Even so, Murray's investment agenda is modest. Her jobs plan is far less than what's envisioned in the American Jobs Act. Her education plan nods toward, but never quite endorses, universal pre-K. There's nothing specific about bringing down the costs of higher education. Her health-care plan embraces the Affordable Care Act, but doesn't add anything to it.
On the jobs and investment side as well as on the deficit-reduction side, there's a deep caution to Murray's budget. That comes, in part, for political reasons: Senate Democrats have an ideologically broad and fractious conference, and getting agreement on a budget requires keeping those differences fuzzy.
But the result is that while Murray prioritizes protecting both the recovery and key investments, this isn't the jobs-and-investment version of the Ryan plan -- it's not a bold or creative document to deal with our severe economic problems, but a tentative document that replaces the sequester, stabilizes the debt and makes a few targeted investments, all with the intention of creating a budget path more hospitable to recovery. I'd like to see it go much farther in that direction, but I erred Wednesday in saying so little about the steps it does, in fact, take.
There is, however, a recently released budget that serves as the bold, jobs-and-investment version of the Ryan plan. But more on that later.