House Republicans released a budget plan on Tuesday, and Senate Democrats did the same yesterday, but let's not forget there's also a rival plan from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Will it have the votes to pass Congress? No. Does it deserve to be taken seriously anyway? Yes.
The reason budgets are interesting has very little to do with individual spending levels. After all, at the congressional level, budgets are generally more of a blueprint, with specific spending decisions left to a separate appropriations process. Rather, budgets get so much attention because they present a vision and help establish a caucus' fiscal priorities. Paul Ryan's House GOP budget, for example, makes clear that he and his Republican colleagues want to redistribute wealth from the bottom up.
And the Congressional Progressive Caucus' plan, called the "Back To Work Budget," makes clear they want to lower unemployment.
The budget begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid. It includes $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013-2015. The main policies there are a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative, and $179 billion in state and local aid. [...]
Investment on this scale will add trillions to the deficit. But the House Progressives have an answer for that: Higher taxes. About $4.2 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade, to be exact. The revenues come from raising marginal tax rates on high-income individuals and corporations, but also from closing a raft of deductions as well as adding a financial transactions tax and a carbon tax. They also set up a slew of super-high tax rates for the very rich, including a top rate of 49 percent on incomes over $1 billion.
And don't forget the public option in health care intended to give consumers more options while lowering costs through competition.
Keep in mind, this isn't a fiscally irresponsible budget plan or even a plan that says fiscal responsibility is unimportant. In fact, it's the opposite.
The Progressives' priorities are paid for and after an initial burst, the budget plan reduces the deficit. What about spending cuts? The CPC blueprint does that, too, but not in a way Republicans would consider satisfactory -- their budget cuts defense by more than $900 billion.
Earlier, I suggested that the Senate Democrats' plan offers a bookend to the House GOP plan, but upon further reflection, that's not quite right. Ryan aims for radicalism; Senate Dems aim for modesty. Ryan throws caution to the wind and laughs at calls for compromise; Senate Dems deliberately identify a moderate middle ground.
The actual bookend for Paul Ryan's vision is the Congressional Progressive Caucus' plan -- it's bold and unapologetic, presenting an agenda without real regard for whether folks on the other side of the aisle will find it worthwhile.
We'll never know for sure whether the public would be amenable to a vision like this. In fact, I have a strong hunch more than 99% of the population will never hear a single word about the "Back To Work Budget." But let's be clear about one thing: on Capitol Hill, when it comes to creating millions of jobs in a hurry, this is the only game in town.