This month, the Congressional Progressive Caucus got far less attention than a random Donald Trump tweet when it released its annual budget — “The People’s Budget” — for fiscal 2017. The media’s oversight does Americans a disservice. Surprised by Bernie Sanders’s surge in the presidential campaign, the media tends to echo the Clinton campaign’s dismissal of his ideas as unrealistic. In fact, as the CPC budget demonstrates, there is growing political support at all levels for bold ideas that challenge the failed conservative consensus of the previous decades. And those ideas, like Sanders’s, are quite sensible.
The CPC budget is a detailed and sophisticated document. Prepared in conjunction with the Economic Policy Institute, it is projected in parallel with the Congressional Budget Office baseline. Its assumptions, programs, costs and revenue are laid out for all to see. And it is a ringing indictment of our current course.
Like Sanders, the People’s Budget boldly calls for a new era of public-investment-led growth. The budget supports a $1 trillion, 10-year-plan to rebuild our infrastructure, including a specific provision for addressing the decline in safe water illustrated in the Flint, Mich., calamity. It increases investments dramatically in education from pre-K to debt-free college. It unapologetically increases funds for cracking down on wage theft and enforcing worker rights and environmental protections.
Like Sanders, the CPC calls for progressive taxes and sensible spending savings to pay for its programs. But it also heeds the pleas of establishment institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (made up of the world’s leading economies) that have been begging the United States and other countries to expand public spending to stave off the renewed threat of a global downturn. The CPC frontloads its investments to move the economy rapidly toward real full employment (targeting 4 percent unemployment). Full employment would end the destructive job gap that has persisted since the Great Recession. And at full employment, wages would go up across the board, as workers start to be in demand.
The People’s Budget also would invest in job training and provide greater support to workers displaced by companies moving abroad. It invests in renewable energy and efficiency. It provides a special provision for jobs in chronically distressed communities, both rural and urban. It expands the earned-income tax credit for childless workers and the child-care tax credit. Americans would have jobs, see their incomes begin to rise and benefit from investments long overdue.
The CPC also provides a bold call for progressive tax reforms, increasing revenue while cutting ill-conceived tax policies. The CPC’s tax reforms include higher rates at the top, taxing returns on capital at the same rate as income from work and ending the perverse deferral of corporate taxes on profits squirreled abroad. The CPC supports the Robin Hood tax, the tax on financial transactions that would slow down nanosecond, computerized trading. It raises taxes on wealthy estates, and levies a new tax on banks that are too big to fail. It would also put a price on carbon emissions, rebating a portion of that revenue to lower-wage workers. It also saves nearly a half-trillion from health care by empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices on drugs, creating a public option in Obamacare and reforming our corrupted drug patent and development laws. It would end subsidies to oil, coal and gas companies. By combining smart policies and smart economics, says Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), first vice chair of the CPC, “The People’s Budget reverses harmful austerity cuts and fixes a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the top.”
The People’s Budget also takes on wasteful spending. It features a proposal that progressives, responsible moderates and thinking conservatives have embraced: auditing the Pentagon. “As the only federal agency that cannot be audited, the Pentagon loses tens of billions of dollars annually to waste, fraud, and abuse,” argues the CPC. It would end the blind, across-the-board cuts to the military imposed by the sequester and budget caps. Instead, it would save a similar amount with considered cuts that focus Pentagon spending on modern security threats instead of Cold War-era weapons and contracts, and it would invest in a job-creation program that would help workers transition into civilian jobs. It would also end the off-budget funding of the military’s endless wars after a year, calling for an end to fighting in Afghanistan, while increasing investments in diplomacy, sustainable development, and humanitarian assistance to address the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq.
At the end of 10 years, the CPC projects a lower annual deficit and level of debt-to-GDP than either current law or the president’s budget. And remarkably, only the People’s Budget succeeds in returning our spending on domestic programs that are voted on by Congress (discretionary domestic spending) to their historic average as a percent of GDP. The president’s budget, meanwhile, projects a continued unprecedented gutting of the domestic functions of government, from education to environmental protection to the FBI.
The contrast with Republicans is obvious. The House GOP released a budget that cuts domestic spending to levels lower than they were eight years ago, with the bulk of the cuts coming from programs for the most vulnerable. They would promote fracking, cut funding for renewable energy, end support for Amtrak and urban mass transit, shut down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, repeal the Affordable Care Act without a plan to replace it and turn Medicaid and food stamps into block grants for the states to savage. They would increase military spending. The Congressional Budget Office warned that under the House proposal, “economic output would be lower . . . because differences in federal spending and revenues would reduce total demand for goods and services.”
Over the past decades, conservatives in both parties have failed the vast majority in this country. The CPC People’s Budget, like the Sanders platform, shows there is an alternative. Bold, big reforms can make our lives better. Last year’s version of the People’s Budget had the support of nearly 100 legislators, yet its passage will require, as Sanders argues, a political revolution. What this remarkable document makes clear is that the question is not one of fate, but of policy and power. And more and more Americans are waking up to that.