Even before the snow melted, budget season returned to Washington. On March 4 President Obama offered a 2015 budget proposal, and Republicans who in recent years have used obstruction, threats and even shut down the government to try to get their way, presented their budget appropriately on April Fools' Day. But on March 12 the Congressional Progressive Caucus – an organization of members of Congress to the left of Obama – announced its budget proposal which it calls the Better Off Budget. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) consists of more than three dozen of the most pro-labor members of the House of Representatives, as well as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate.
UE has long considered the CPC an important ally, and much of its work, including its alternative budget proposals, match up closely with the policies adopted by delegates to UE conventions. The Better Off Budget embodies the goals that UE delegates at the 2013 convention endorsed in the resolution, “A Just Economy for All.” It would create 8.8 million jobs by repairing and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure; providing training and job services to the long-term unemployed; and adopting the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowky (D-IL). Her plan includes a Park Improvement Corps employing young people to restore public lands; a Student Job Corp providing work study positions for college students; and Child Development Corps to provide jobs in early childhood development. The Better Off Budget includes $100 billion in stimulus for public schools. It also boosts jobs with $95 billion in grants to the states, to enable the rehiring of police, firefighters, healthcare and other public workers laid off in recent state budget crises.
Another priority of the Better Off Budget is “reversing harmful cuts.” It repeals the Budget Control Act of 2011 with its senseless and unfair across-the-board cuts known as “the sequester.” It undoes the Republicans’ cruel cuts in unemployment compensation and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps), improves nutrition aid to families, and restores up to 99 weeks of unemployment compensation in states with the highest levels of joblessness.
The Better Off Budget includes detailed plans to make taxes fairer and, in the process, reduce the federal budget deficit by $4.08 trillion over the next 10 years, by making the rich and corporations pay more of what they owe. Tax rates on working class Americans would not increase, and we’d benefit from the Hard Work Tax Credit. Marginal tax rates on the wealthiest would increase. It would stop U.S. companies from dodging U.S. taxes by keeping their profits overseas. It would enact a Financial Transactions Tax – the so-called Robin Hood Tax – on Wall Street transactions. This tax is designed to both create a disincentive to the kind of reckless speculation that caused the Crash of 2008, and bring in revenue to help rebuild our country.
On healthcare, the Better Off Budget addresses several problems in the ACA or Obamacare. It adds a public option to the health insurance exchanges, which is expected to mean significantly lower premiums. It also provides waivers for states wishing to adopt a single payer health insurance program.
The CPC does not include Social Security in the Better Off Budget because Social Security is separately funded and is not part of the federal budget. But the caucus endorses improvements, including a more accurate and generous cost-of-living calculation. It also calls for phasing out the cap on Social Security payroll taxes, so that millionaires and executives have to pay Social Security taxes on their earnings at the same rate as the rest of us.
The Better Off Budget defends the environment. It would tax polluters at $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. It eliminates corporate welfare for the oil, gas and coal industries by repealing subsidies and tax loopholes. It reinstates Superfund excise taxes, which expired in 1995, to make the dumpers of hazardous wastes pay to clean up the messes they’ve made.
Another major goal of the Better Off Budget is move the U.S. away from a war economy and towards a human needs economy. It calls for an end of emergency war funding and getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. It reduces the Pentagon’s baseline spending, and redirects funds to veterans’ assistance and to the Office of Economic Adjustment, a Department of Defense program to assist communities impacted by loss of military and contractor jobs to .
President Obama’s proposed budget for 2015, unlike the budget he proposed one year ago, does not call for cutting Social Security through the “chained CPI”, a reduction in the cost-of-living formula. But a White House spokesman was quick to point out that while chained CPI is not in the budget, “…it’s still on the table” – in other words, the president would still be willing to cut Social Security in a deal with Republicans. His budget does include a number of positive measures, including $303 billion over four years for transportation and other infrastructure improvements, and funding of universal preschool. But in many respects, his is a status quo budget. Republican House Budget Chair Paul Ryan's budget plan could be called a “Worse Off Budget” for working class Americans, with even more slashing of vital public spending, more tax cuts for the rich, privatization of Social Security and “voucherization” of Medicare.
MOBILIZING FOR CHANGE
A coalition of activist organizations are beginning to mobilize to make the Better Off Budget an organizing tool for social change, rather than just an annual Washington exercise during budget season. These groups include U.S. Labor Against the War, of which UE is an affiliate. Working together as the New Priorities Network, they plan to organize local coalitions that will push members of Congress to hold forums and other events to bring attention to budget issues and the Better Off Budget. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is a fairly loose alliance of progressives and liberals in Congress. New Priorities Network wants to create a grassroots force that can lean on CPC members to vote more consistently with the caucus, and on other liberals and progressives in Congress to join the caucus. (You can visit the CPC online here. To see a list of members, click on “About CPC” and then “Caucus Members.”)
Organizing around the Better Off Budget is a useful way to educate and activate union members and our communities to fight for economic justice in our country. Your local union should find out what’s being done in your area and get involved. You can find out more, and read the entire Better Off Budget here. You should also visit the website of U.S. Labor Against the War.
(Click here to learn about the "Freedom Budget for All Americans" proposed in the 1960s by Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders.)