Out of power in Washington and around the country, Democrats are struggling with how to move forward as a party. Already the jockeying for the 2020 nomination has begun. What policies the party chooses to champion will be essential to how long or short the path will be to recovery. On Tuesday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus — led by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) — released its annual “People’s Budget” for 2018. The CPC has produced a budget for years, but with the party at a crossroads, this edition may be the most important ever. Democrats should recognize its ideas as an inspiration for the party going forward.
The People’s Budget starts by acknowledging a problem that most leaders acknowledge but few have addressed: the country’s crumbling infrastructure. It provides $2 trillion over 10 years to repair bridges and tunnels, revitalize mass transit, replace contaminated water systems, rebuild public schools and more. Furthermore, weak wage growth and other indicators demonstrate that the economy remains short of where it was before the Great Recession, and infrastructure investment can provide badly needed jobs that will help propel the economy to new heights. The Economic Policy Institute projects that the People’s Budget would add 2.4 million jobs and increase GDP by 2 percent in the near term.
The CPC’s plan also addresses other crucial domestic issues. While Republicans struggle to reconcile repealing Obamacare with keeping health care affordable, the CPC puts forward actual ideas to bring the cost of health care down: The People’s Budget introduces a public option — which would lower premiums — and ends the ridiculous prohibition on Medicare negotiating drug prices, saving billions. The document also recognizes the dangers of climate change, putting a price on carbon and eliminating tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry. And it funds universal pre-kindergarten and strengthens antitrust enforcement, fighting back against the oligopolies in health care, cable and other industries that are hurting Americans’ pocketbooks.
Finally, the People’s Budget invests in communities that needs critical help. It ends funding cuts to programs such as Head Start and needs-based nutrition programs — cuts which disproportionately hurt women and people of color. It invests millions to help veterans find housing, jobs and health care. And it commits money toward fighting homelessness and funding affordable housing.
With all this spending, people may wonder what happens to the national debt, but the People’s Budget reduces the debt as a percentage of GDP. Besides the savings and the carbon pricing mentioned above, the budget raises trillions while making the tax system more fair. In addition to closing numerous loopholes for businesses and high earners, there are three major changes: restoring Clinton-era tax rates for income above $250,000 and higher rates for income over $1 million, going after companies that defer tax by sending income overseas, and reintroducing a financial transaction tax (which the United States had from 1914 to 1966). All told, these three reforms raise nearly $5 trillion over 10 years.
The People’s Budget has no chance of becoming law in a GOP-controlled government. But this budget is a marker for Democrats aspiring to lead the party forward. The party is increasingly seen as out of touch, even by its own supporters. The People’s Budget by contrast is built around sound policies that are also politically popular. It reflects Americans’ long-standing desires for fixing the country’s infrastructure, strengthening entitlements, lowering the cost of health care and making the wealthiest pay their fair share. These ideas, if adopted, could be the foundation of a rebuilt and resurgent party, and by embracing the goals of the People’s Budget, Democrats can reorient toward the future.