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Progressive Lawmakers Unveil Alternative Budget: Tax the Rich, Cut the Pentagon

The Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled a federal budget proposal March 13 that would stimulate employment, raise taxes on the wealthy, cut the Pentagon budget and reduce the budget deficit.

(Photo: Michael Baird)

As the House Budget Committee discussed marking up Chairman Paul Ryan’s austerity budget on Wednesday, leaders from the Congressional Progressive Caucus revealed their fiscal plan for America.

Entitled “Back to Work,” the budget lays out policies that proponents say would bridge the deficit by stimulating employment, raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting the Pentagon budget.

However, it has virtually no chance of passing.

Symbolic of the CPC’s status, caucus leaders held a press conference heralding their plan in a hallway of the Cannon House Office Building, adjacent to the hearing room where the Ryan budget neared its first hurdle.

“Our fight is with the outside,” conceded CPC co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona. “The Progressive Caucus’ fight and momentum is from the outside, and we know that’s the pressure point.”

Grijalva described the CPC budget – the third such plan the caucus has published in three years – as part of a long game.

“Us sitting down and convincing (Congressman) Ryan, based on his ideological opposition to any role by government is going to be impossible,” he told Truthout. “But there are a lot of voters out there that are going to begin to turn heads and look at ours and ask what’s wrong with it, and they can’t answer the question.”

“Every time we get into an insider’s game, we lose,” he added.

The CPC manifesto isn’t just facing opposition from across the aisle, either. President Obama has shown himself willing to offer Medicare and Social Security benefit cuts in budget negotiations with Congressional Republicans.

And lobbyists, too, are descending upon Capitol Hill in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to preserve their clients’ golden geese. As the fight has intensified, military contractors, for example, spent over a hundred million dollars last year alone, according to the Sunlight Foundation, trying to employ legislative affairs specialists to abate the movement against Pentagon bloat. Capitol South, the Metro stop that serves the House side of the Capitol, is currently emblazoned – almost exclusively – with advertisements paid for by defense contractor Raytheon – as if the station is ground zero for launching an invasion of Iran.

The CPC budget, however, proposes cutting defense spending to 2006 levels. It also calls for “an expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan” and a Pentagon audit, among other military downsizing initiatives.

The plan also proposes increasing marginal tax rates on those who earn over $250,000 – the top 2 percent of the income distribution – to Clinton-era levels, while increasing spending on investment in infrastructure to the tune of $1.1 trillion – part of a broader stimulus that caucus leaders say will create 7 million jobs in one year alone.

Other initiatives include: a financial transactions tax, a “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee” for “too big to fail” banks with over $50 billion in assets; the implementation of the “Buffet Rule,” the proposal named after billionaire Warren Buffet that would treat capital gains as normal income; the elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels; a public option for health insurance, and an amendment to part D of Medicare that would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Overall, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the CPC budget would reduce the deficit from 7 percent to 1.2 percent of GDP by 2023.

Karen Dolan, a fellow at the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, characterized the budget as “the right way to approach deficit reduction.”

“It doesn’t sacrifice health and well-being of majority Americans,” she said, calling the Ryan Budget “an economic disaster.”

“The comparison between the two couldn’t be more stark.”

Dolan said deficit reduction depends on robust employment providing a wide tax base, which “should be the Republican Party’s program if they actually cared about the American people, the economy, and even the deficit.”

But despite the sort of left-of-center wish list that the CPC budget represents, one progressive cause missing from the vision is a plan to scrap the War on Drugs.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the War on Drugs claimed $25 billion of the 2012 federal budget, as well as $25 billion at the state and local level. An even more massive federal drug war budget has been requested for the coming year.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, the other CPC co-chair, told Truthout that caucus members aren’t against framing Drug War law repeals as a fiscal issue, calling it “something we might consider.”

“We’re not opposed to it,” he said.

“These are things that members of the Progressive Caucus have led on. These are things that we find extremely important,” he said.

In the 112th Congress, Rep. Ellison cosponsored three bills designed to scale down harsh penalties on drug users: the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, the Federal First Offender Improvement Act of 2011, and the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education Act.

“The fact is that we deeply care about criminal justice reform and dealing with the drug war,” he said.

Meanwhile, President Obama met with Congressional Republicans on Wednesday. According to The Hill, he said that he prioritizes preventing an economic slowdown over balancing the budget.

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