Friday, March 15, 2013
Senate Democrats Finally Take a Stand
It’s been four years since the Democrats who control the Senate produced a budget. That has meant four missed opportunities to demonstrate what they stand for, in hard numbers and clear spending priorities. On Wednesday, the chamber’s leaders stiffened their spines and issued a 2014 budget. If the result isn’t quite a courageous resistance to political winds, it at least makes most of the right choices and is a solid rebuttal to the heartless collection of obsolete dogmas that is the House budget.
The plan, assembled by Senator Patty Murray of Washington, would raise nearly a $1 trillion in new revenue over a decade by eliminating tax loopholes and breaks that benefit wealthy taxpayers and corporations. It recommends either limiting the overall itemized deductions of the top 2 percent of taxpayers or eliminating individual loopholes like the favorable tax rates given to hedge-fund managers. Corporations would no longer be able to avoid taxation by hiding money overseas.
At the same time, this budget cuts an equal amount of spending, $975 billion, in a way that avoids the reckless damage to vital programs and to the poor in the budget favored by the House. Nearly a third of the reductions come from new efficiencies in Medicare and Medicaid, building on the reforms in the Affordable Care Act. The rest comes from defense cuts after American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, along with cuts to wasteful programs like agriculture supports.
These cuts and revenue increases would replace the arbitrary reductions of the sequester, which does not distinguish between good and bad programs or pay attention to the heavy damage it would inflict on the economy, destroying up to a million jobs.
Ms. Murray’s plan, recognizing that government has to play a role in accelerating the recovery, would devote $100 billion to new job-creating investments: $50 billion for transportation projects, $10 billion for fixing dams and ports, $20 billion for repairing schools and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank for big projects.
The proposal could have gone further. Under pressure from the false Washington “consensus” that the deficit is an immediate problem, the plan fails to spend enough on education or even on President Obama’s proposal for universal preschool. Unlike the budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, it does not call for higher tax rates on the rich, or for a bigger estate tax, or for taxing capital gains as ordinary income.
But it rejects the hard-right insistence that the budget must be balanced in the short term, the destructive goal of Paul Ryan’s House version. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted on Friday, Mr. Ryan’s budget gets at least two-thirds of its $5 trillion in nondefense cuts from programs that benefit low- and moderate-income people. While providing the rich with a tax cut, it would cut trillions from Medicaid, food stamps, school lunches, nutrition aid and Pell Grants.
The Senate now needs to make a strong defense of the principles it has, at last, put on paper.