Instead of Worrying About Budgets and Deficits, Ask About Impact

Budget deficits can be a very powerful weapon in the battle against poverty, inequality, economic environmental and social justice. I worry very much about the vilifying of budget deficits and the use and reliance and dependence on questions of how social spending will impact budget deficits, to the complete disregard for the impact of programs and policies on people.

I worked with Senator Bernie Sanders as he pushed an ambitious policy agenda to do things like raise the minimum wage, put millions of people to work on large scale public investments, provide paid family leave, tuition-free colleges universal healthcare, and so on. And in every turn, no matter what he proposed, the first question on everyone’s lips was, “How are you going to pay for it?” And then, “What does the [Congressional Budget Office] say? Does it get a good score or does it get a bad score, in which case the deficit might increase and it might add to the national debt?”

Everything in Washington revolves around this impact on debt and this question of paying for it. And my opinion — and I was the chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee — is that this is absolutely the least important question that anyone could possibly ask.

It has nothing to do with people or the ways in which these policies and programs really matter. No one asks, “How many kids would be lifted out of poverty if we did program X, Y, or Z? How would the programs reduce wealth inequality? Racial wealth inequality? How would the poor, the sick, the elderly be impacted? Would they be safer and more secure if we pursued these policies? What about the planet?”

We need to hold policymakers accountable and push them to focus on the things that matter. They need to know that we will not stand for excuses that have to do with the budget deficit and the impact on the national debt.

My position is that the federal government of the United States of America can move forward with a poor people’s agenda because it can always create the…

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