Representatives from the 77-member House Progressive Caucus gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to roll out their plan to cut the deficit and put the budget back into balance. Their simple solution: pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, install a public option for health care, raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations and voila, America is fixed.
The caucus plan, known as The People’s Budget, was explained in some detail by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs last week. Today, progressive members extolled the virtues of the plan as members sat waiting for President Obama to introduce a deficit reduction plan many Democrats worried would sacrifice necessary spending on the altar of a mistaken understanding of fiscal responsibility.
Sachs was on hand at Wednesday’s presser. He called the progressive plan “the only budget proposal that makes sense in this country.”
The Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) “obviously would destroy our government and hit the poorest people in this country all for the sake, the obsessive sake, of lowering tax rates further for the richest people in this country.”
“And unfortunately, the President goes halfway,” Sachs added. “When he speaks today, he’s also talking about freezing, cutting the civilian discretionary budget in this country.”
The members said their budget fixes things the right way.
“We feel [our budget] is rooted in fairness, recognizing that if this country’s going to work, it’s got to work for everyone,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the caucus, said.
Grijalva said the American people want a budget that will “preserve Social Security” and “enhance Medicare and Medicaid.” Americans want “education to be invested in” and they want “policies that will create jobs.”
The way to get there, Grijalva and the rest of the caucus members at the press event today said, is through an increase in taxes and ending the wars.
“We want to cut,” Grijalva added. What’s on the progressive caucus chopping block? “Eliminating unnecessary weapons systems from the Defense Department, eliminating huge tax credits for oil and gas industries, eliminating subsidies for new nuclear power plans,” Grijalva said.
The plan would “eliminate the deficit,” supporters say, and put the nation budget in surplus by 2021. Read the whole plan here.
“Budgets set priorities,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the other chair of the caucus, explained. “You can look at any nation’s budget, or any family’s budget and you can determine what they value, what they think really matters.”
“Now what we think in the progressive caucus matters…is equity,” he continued. “That means we ask the most wealthy Americans to help us carry the load of the expense of this nation. Another key value we care about is peace. So we’re getting out of these wars, they’re not bringing peace to America and they’re incredibly expensive, not only in dollars but in the lives of our American soldiers.”
This is the fourth time the caucus has introduced its own budget, and Grijalva told reporters that though a budget predicated on tax increases and an end to the wars is a decided longshot on Capitol Hill, introducing it puts the progressive message into the debate over how to clean up the national budget mess.
“The motivation was to compare and contrast,” he said. “We are trying with this budget to say that there are other choices out there for the American people. It’s not always the choice of compromising in the middle or playing around the edges.”
Rep. John Conyers (R-MI), a member of the caucus and a veteran of his share of longshot political fights, said that the only way plans like his caucus’ budget will come to pass is if progressives fight for it in the way the tea party has fought for policies similar to the Ryan budget.
“It’s about time we start joining with our allies and marching, and protesting and going to the White House,” he said. “The rhetoric is beautiful, the speeches are great, but until we start protesting with thousands of people backing up the Progressive Caucus, we’re just another group that issues press releases on Wednesday.”