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A Tale of Two Budgets

March 17, 2013

Much discussion ensued on Capitol Hill last week concerning the release of Paul Ryan’s most recently proposed Federal Budget. The document consists largely of the same policy proposals as have been presented each year since he assumed the Chairmanship of the House Budget Committee following the 2010 midterm Congressional elections. These include the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the partial privatization of Medicare and cuts to other social programs.

This budget proposal is remarkable in its audacity and apparent lack of any concern for the wishes of the American people as were demonstrated by the results of the November 2012 elections. There is no appreciable difference in this proposed budget and the one which Ryan campaigned for as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate last fall. It doubles down on tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, while eliminating no tax loopholes. He proposes to cut the deficit by means of the tax increases implemented as a solution to the “fiscal cliff” and spending cuts such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the ending of  Medicare as we know it by replacing it with subsidies for elderly health insurance, this time beginning with people 54 years of age and younger. It would also change the Medicaid program into a system of block grants to the states.

Ryan’s approach to repealing the ACA  has been tried over 30 times since the Republicans took over as the majority in the House of Representatives. It passed the House each time and never even came to a vote in the Senate because the Democrats have maintained a solid majority in that body. Even if it passed the Senate, neither house of Congress would be able to override a veto by the president which would follow. Ryan  knows this going in, making the rest of his exercise in faulty mathematics an absurd exercise in abdication of his duty to write a budget for the coming year by which the government can operate.

Thus, for three years in a row, the House Budget Committee, under the leadership of Paul Ryan, has produced a document which in no way will resemble the finished product (if there is one, and not just another series of continuing resolutions enabling us to limp into the next fiscal year, like we’ve experienced for the past two plus years). The American people had a chance to vote for this very GOP approach to the budget last November and voted decidedly against it. President Obama was reelected convincingly by a majority of voters, who also increased the number of Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Despite a majority of voters also voting for Democrats in House races, gerrymandering of districts and voter suppression techniques enabled the GOP to maintain a majority in that body, but voter preference obviously favored the Obama/Biden approach over the Romney/Ryan one.

The spending and taxing policies enumerated in the Ryan budget would undoubtedly lower the deficit, but at great cost to many of the most economically vulnerable members of our society. They would also further exacerbate the economic inequalities which have been plaguing our nation ever since the Reagan administration and culminating in the Bush tax cuts which were only partially undone by the recent fiscal cliff agreement.These tax advantages to high income individuals and corporations have done little to stimulate the economy as a whole and have left the vast majority of wage earners with stagnant or declining incomes while CEOs and other higher wage-earners have seen theirs skyrocket. It is long past time when these advantages should be curtailed and the economic opportunities for the vast majority of us be improved.

At about the same time as Ryan was introducing the nation to his latest budget proposal, the Congressional Progressive Caucus introduced its Back to Work Budget. As was the case in the past two years, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has produced an alternative to the austerity driven deficit cutting exercise produced by the House Budget Committee.The Back to Work Budget seeks to improve the economy as its name suggests – by creating jobs and investing in such areas as infrastructure, education and public works jobs programs. The tax system would be revised to increase rates for those with incomes over $250K, millionaires and billionaires and to tax income from investments at the same rate as income from wages and salaries. Corporate tax incentives to move jobs and profits overseas would be removed, as well as other corporate subsidies which are no longer needed by companies seeing record profits at a time when their employees are being laid off or seeing their wages drop in real terms. There would also be a financial transactions tax initiated to try to control the rampant speculation in the financial markets that was largely responsible for the most recent financial crisis.

As in previous years, when the Republican budget proposal received most of the media attention and the only votes in the House of Representatives, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Back to Work Budget will likely not see the light of day on the floor of either house of Congress this year. In all likelihood, it stands even less of a chance of passage than Ryan’s push for austerity and slashing of programs necessary for the well-being of millions of Americans. The fact that Ryan’s budget is also likely to end up in the same scrap heap of failed legislative initiatives as did his last two is little consolation to those who would greatly benefit under the Caucus’s progressive vision for the future of the country.

The Senate Democrats will also be coming up with a budget proposal of their own which will likely fall somewhere between the Ryan and Back to Work budgets. It has the advantage that it has a better chance of bipartisan support (if such a thing is still possible in this Congress), and may be able to stave off some of the more draconian cuts the GOP propose. A Grand Bargain that contains substantial cuts to safety net programs without including revenue streams that see people paying their fair share of the costs considering the benefits they are getting from our society would be a travesty and contribute to further increases in inequality, poverty and economic decline in the future for the vast majority of us. The recent unanimous vote by House Republicans against a bill calling for a raise in the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10/hour indicates where the party stands when it comes to providing economic justice for all workers.

The Back to Work budget deserves far more public discussion than it has been receiving thus far in mainstream media and the halls of Congress,  Republican intransigence on issues of fairness and equality for all members of American society has become an abomination that we must all must speak out against. We need to strengthen and expand the promise and policies of the New Deal, FDR’s Second Bill of Rights and the Great Society to benefit all members of our community, not merely those at the top of the income/wealth heap. The idea is to raise the standards of living for all of us, not merely a few to the neglect of and at the expense of the rest. If the Congressional Republicans continue to refuse to meet the needs of their constituents – all of us – it is well past time for a significant change in the composition of both Houses. 2014 is right around the corner, but two years is an awfully long time to hold onto hope for improvement when our elected representatives are not serving our interests.

Below are links to the Ryan Budget proposal as well as the Executive Summary of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Back to Work Budget:

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Resolution – House Budget Committee

Congressional Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget

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