The Inspiration Budget
Jared Bernstein and Deborah Weinstein
April 02, 2007
Jared Bernstein is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and author of All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy. Deborah Weinstein is the executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs.
A couple of weeks ago , we posted articles here lamenting the spending priorities of the Bush administration. In “There’s Always Money for War,” one of us asked why it should be a piece of cake to get Congress to sign a $100 billion check for the war when human needs goes wanting. In the same spirit, “Undoing Bush’s Budget Priorities ” provided stark details of the president’s proposed cuts to programs that mean a lot to people, from education to housing to kids’ health care.
Well, we’re back to heap a load of praise on an alternative budget created by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), a bicameral bloc of 72 members of Congress led by California U.S. Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee. It is devoted to tapping the breadth and scope of government to tackle the big challenges we face.
This budget is a deeply impressive document. It reflects the spending priorities of the majority of Americans who would like to see our role in the Iraq war come to a close, and for Congress to address domestic priorities relating to economic security. As such, it stands in direct contrast to the president’s budget and war supplemental requests, which consistently and perplexingly ignore both the public and the Congress’s shifting sentiments regarding guns and butter.
The theme of the CPC budget is to shift resources from war, weapons, and tax cuts for the wealthiest to domestic spending. The contrast to the budgets proposed by the president and the House Republican minority is striking. The CPC invests in health, education, housing, rebuilding communities and developing renewable energy sources. The conservative hawks plow money into the military and high-end tax breaks.
Take a look at where the Progressive Caucus gets the revenue they—that is, we—need to start addressing our most pressing domestic priorities, without adding to the deficit. They spend $86 billion less than the White House and Congress on the military. They save over $200 billion over the next two years by leaving Iraq by the end of this year. And they get some serious bucks from ending the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent, yielding at least $300 billion.
Are the military cuts reckless? In the documents accompanying their budget, the CPC provides a clear, detailed and compelling discussion of the cuts they propose. They’re heavily influenced by the work of Lawrence Korb, former high-ranking defense official under Reagan (there’s some street cred for you). Korb elaborates a series of cuts with reference to specific weapon systems that are being kept on life support by the pols and contractors feeding the military industrial complex, not by any realistic rationale for our security.
On the spending side, they get the budget balanced sooner than the other budgets floating around (nobody’s perfect: Neither the CPC nor anyone else seems to be taking on the Alternative Minimum Tax , a tax that’s about to bite the middle class big time unless Congress acts). But here’s the beautiful part: the CPC budget spends $88 billion more than Bush on non-defense, domestic services. They also surpass their less bold House colleagues in this category by $34 billion.
Their spending priorities include fully funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, to make sure every eligible child gets publicly provided health insurance. It’s a proven success but it’s under siege by the Bush budget. They restore the cuts made to job training programs, community investments, food stamps, veteran’s benefits and housing. They fulfill long-ignored federal promises to increase funds for K-12 education. They remember the needs of people and communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina (which received nary a mention in the president’s budget). And they invest $30 billion a year for 10 years to develop renewable energy resources, creating three million new jobs along the way.
We know we sound a bit star-struck—only in the beltway do people drool like this over a budget—but you’ve got to appreciate the liberation that the CPC budget offers. Sure, federal budgets are starchy documents, but nowhere else do we so clearly express what and whom we really care about as a nation.
The two pieces we wrote earlier in this process were inspired by the callous disregard for the will of the majority, and the CPC seems to have heard us, and millions of others like us. The House ultimately got behind the budget of the Democratic majority, a plan that’s not as far-reaching as the CPC’s, but is nonetheless a step in the right direction.
What’s important now is for these members to keep the CPC priorities foremost in their thinking. The work of the caucus has the potential to imbue the budgeting process with a deep concern for the future of our nation, both in foreign and domestic policy fronts. By fearlessly yet carefully going after military waste, war and tax cuts for the wealthiest, they create the space to do precisely what people want our government to do: stop creating problems, and start solving them.