AN ALTERNATIVE BUDGET FOR THE U.S.

Meaningful alternatives to the policies being put forward in Washington, D.C., are available, but do not get the attention they deserve, particularly from our mainstream, corporate media. For example, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has prepared a detailed, well thought out alternative budget for the country.

The People’s Budget, as it is called, presents a coherent vision and plan for making our democracy and economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy. It promotes true full employment (i.e., full utilization of the workforce’s skills) and reduces income and wealth inequality. It is a comprehensive ten-year plan that provides much more detail than the budget document presented by the Trump administration. [1] It includes specific dollar amounts for all major budget items for fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1, 2017, as well as for the next 10 years.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has analyzed the People’s Budget and concluded that it would make our tax system more progressive (i.e., fairer) and increase revenue so we can afford to address national needs and priorities. In addition, it “would have significant positive impacts, including improving the economic well-being of low- and middle-class families, making necessary public investments, strengthening the social safety net, and … reducing the deficit in the medium term” (i.e., in 2-3 years). [2] The EPI estimates that the People’s Budget would bring the US economy to a full recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP, the total of all the goods and services produced by the US economy) by 2% and employment by 2.4 million jobs in the near term (i.e., over the next 1-2 years). It would end the under-use of productive resources, particularly the under-employment of the workforce, and improve productivity, which would produce growth in workers’ incomes and living standards.

The People’s Budget would spend $2 trillion over 10 years to repair our crumbling infrastructure and provide jobs. It would repair and modernize our energy, water and sewer, and transportation systems, while increasing access to reliable, high-speed internet services. The infrastructure spending would cover 92% of what the American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated is needed to make our infrastructure safe and up-to-date.

It would also invest in our human capital through spending on our education system. It would make health care and child care affordable. It would support the working and middle class and improve their economic security. It would strengthen our safety net programs while reducing the need for them. It would provide support to the strained budgets of state and local governments, supporting, for example, local public safety and K-12 education systems.

While the spending in the People’s Budget would increase the deficit in fiscal year 2018 (FY2018), it includes increases in revenue and decreases in tax expenditures that would not only pay for its spending proposals, but reduce the federal budget deficit in subsequent years. [3] (More detail on this in my next post.)

The People’s Budget would reverse the reductions in domestic spending that have been made over the last 10 years of austerity budget cutting and the previous 25 years of cuts and failure to keep up with inflation. These cuts have reduced spending for education, job training, research, aid to state and local governments, and just about every other type of non-defense public spending. Current non-defense discretionary spending is near a historical low and current budget plans would have it continue to decline over the next 10 years to new all-time lows. The government spending cuts of the last 10 years have been a major – if not the major – cause of the slow recovery from the 2008 Great Recession. The People’s Budget would gradually increase non-defense discretionary spending to its historical level as a percentage of GDP by 2022.

In the health care arena, the People’s Budget strengthens and improves the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care). It would provide a public, Medicare-like option in each state’s insurance market, providing competition for the private insurers. This would ensure that the private insurers must provide good coverage at reasonable rates to be competitive. It would also allow states to transition to a single-payer, Medicare-for-All type health care system if they would like to. It would expand access to mental health services and to drug addiction treatment. It would lower prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices (as Medicaid, veterans’ health care, and private insurers currently do) and by reforming laws covering drug patents and pricing.

The People’s Budget invests in our human capital by supporting our education system from birth to career. It makes quality early care and education (aka good child care) affordable for all families. It invests in our K-12 education system and in special education from birth through age 21. It increases educational opportunities in computer science, allows refinancing of student debt, and makes debt free college a possibility for all students.

Workers are supported by increasing the minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, and addressing gender pay equity. It would increase funding for the safety net where needed, especially for assistance to workers whose jobs have been moved overseas. Support for small businesses would be increased to support job creation.

Overall, the People’s Budget is projected to cut the number of people living in poverty in half in 10 years. As part of its comprehensive plan, the People’s Budget also addresses problems with our support for veterans, our criminal justice system, our immigration system, and voting rights and elections. It would modernize and increase efficiency in the Defense Department, reducing military spending while increasing funding for diplomacy and international humanitarian programs.

Some people say we can’t afford the investments in our human and physical capital that the People’s Budget calls for. However, it includes specific proposals for increasing revenue, decreasing tax expenditures (i.e., tax loopholes and deductions), and increasing efficiency in the public and private sectors that will more than pay for its spending proposals. I’ll summarize these proposals in my next post.

[1]      Vanden Heuvel, K., 5/9/17, “Trump’s budget betrays his supporters. Here’s one that doesn’t.” The Washington Post

[2]      Blair, H., 5/2/17, “‘The People’s Budget’: Analysis of the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget for fiscal year 2018,” Economic Policy Institute Policy Center (http://www.epi.org/publication/the-peoples-budget-analysis-of-the-congressional-progressive-caucus-budget-for-fiscal-year-2018/)

[3]      Congressional Progressive Caucus, retrieved 7/7/17, “The People’s Budget: A roadmap for the resistance,” https://cpc-grijalva.house.gov/uploads/FINAL%20CPC%20Budget%20FY18%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

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