Progressives’ Budget Merits a Closer Look

Last week in Washington was a tale of two budgets. One of them used popular, common-sense plans to create millions of jobs. The other had a battery of discredited ideas that would kill jobs and derail the recovery. Guess which one much of the mainstream media were chattering about?

On Tuesday, failed vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled this year’s version of his much-heralded “Ryan budget.” Like its past incarnations, this budget offers the kind of economic medicine that would kill the patient. While excluding some of Ryan’s politically toxic past schemes, such as Social Security privatization, it veers even farther to the right in crucial ways, caving to pressure from tea partyers who thought Ryan’s past efforts weren’t extreme enough. The congressman’s new effort includes a mad dash to completely eliminate the deficit within a decade, at a catastrophic cost: savage cuts to essential services and protections and the destruction of millions of jobs. As Europe reminds us again and again, austerity will only dig us deeper into recession.

Ryan’s budget is cruel, deceptive and incomplete. Even as the Affordable Care Act and Medicare expansion are being embraced by reality-based Republican governors (or those, such as Florida’s Rick Scott, who are experiencing a momentary bout of poll-induced realism), Ryan stubbornly ignores Congressional Budget Office evidence that the ACA decreases the deficit. Even at a moment when we need the safety net more than ever, Ryan wants to shred and slash programsincluding Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and domestic violence prevention. And even as Ryan coasts on his unearned reputation as a serious wonk, his budget math is full of holes. As The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brienput it, this time “his magic asterisk needs to be even more magic.” Paul Krugman was less generous, calling Ryan’s successive plans “all smoke (I couldn’t even find any mirrors).”

Still, Paul Ryan remains a media darling, no matter how dangerous or unpopular his proposals are. But where’s the media love for the just and popular alternative?

On Wednesday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) unveiled its own offering in the budget debate: The Back to Work Budget. It’s a detailed plan to create nearly 7 million jobs while bringing down the deficit by $4.4 trillion over a decade. It does this the right way: higher taxes on the wealthiest (including a 49 percent rate on incomes over a billion – yes, billion – dollars); a financial transaction tax that would discourage reckless speculation; a long-awaited end to tax advantages for outsourcers and corporate jets; a forward-looking carbon tax; a public option for health insurance; sensible military cuts; and investment in infrastructure, school construction, child care, and putting teachers and firefighters back to work.

“Americans face a choice,” says Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus. “We can either cut Medicare benefits to pay for more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, or we can close these tax loopholes to invest in jobs.”

As blogger Bill Scher argues, “the Progressive Caucus holds an unfair advantage: It includes policies the public actually supports.” In a sane world, that would be enough to earn the Back to Work Budget equal time with Ryan’s latest slash-fest. Instead, if past is prologue, the Progressive Caucus alternative will be covered as an afterthought at best.

It doesn’t have to be that way. When all-too-savvy reporters dismiss reasonable ideas as doomed fantasies, they do the public a disservice. When they shower right-wing pseudo-wonkery with the air of seriousness, they make it that much worse. (There are praiseworthy exceptions to the trend,including the New York Times’ Paul Krugman and The Post’s Ezra Klein, who called the Progressive Caucus budget the “correct counterpart to the unbridled ambition of the Ryan budget.”)

This week, both budgets will likely get a vote in the House. The truth is, neither Ryan’s budget nor that of the Progressive Caucus stands a chance of being passed into law as is. But each is an attempt to shift U.S. policy – and national discussion – in a different direction. Since too much of the Inside the Beltway media keep treating Ryan’s budget as a serious blueprint, it falls to the rest of us to break open Washington’s all-too narrowly-framed debate.

“The Ryan budget chooses to slash every job-creating investment in jobs,” says Rep. Ellison, “not just Medicare, but student loans, medical research, and funding for roads and bridges. We choose jobs.”

© 2013 The Washington Post