A Progressive Answer to the GOP's Regressive Budget

03/18/2015 03:50 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2015

A federal budget is a statement about our society's values.

If you believe in this notion as I do, there's a conclusion we can't help but reach: The GOP's new House budget proposal makes some troubling assertions about what's right and wrong.

In a time of unprecedented retirement income insecurity and student debt, the GOP budget cuts funding for the elderly, the ill, and students in order to boost bloated Pentagon budgets, offer tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans, and protect corporate welfare for multinational firms that ship American jobs overseas.

While this troubling budget plan will likely win approval in the GOP-led House of Representatives, the regressive proposals it contains have little chance of making it past President Obama's desk.

But we have a bigger task than blocking the conservatives' backward march. Our task is to present and implement our own positive progressive vision that elevates the interests of jobs, justice, and peace.

This week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) presented just such an actionable vision.

By strengthening the safety net and investing in 21st-century infrastructure, manufacturing, education, and environmental protection, the CPC's "People's Budget" will create 8.4 million new jobs and give low- and moderate-income Americans a much-needed raise.

The CPC budget focuses like a laser on achieving full employment. This is essential because, though the official headline unemployment statistics show the jobless rate at 5.5 percent, more than 20 million Americans are either unemployed, underemployed, or unwillingly out of the labor force. Taking all these factors into account, the real unemployment rate is closer to 13 percent. In both rural and urban pockets of the country, including my hometown of Detroit, the rate is closer to 25 percent. The investments in the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget will boost employment while addressing the most pressing challenges of our time: repairing America's rapidly aging roads and bridges, upgrading our energy systems to address climate change and adapt to its impacts, keeping our communities safe, and preparing our young people to thrive as citizens and workers.

By restoring full employment, the People's Budget addresses the persistent problem of stagnant wages, ensuring that working people have the purchasing power needed to sustain balanced economic growth. The last time our country achieved full employment -- under the Clinton administration in the late 1990s -- workers across the country gained the power to bargain for higher wages, and working families' share of the nation's income rose precipitously.

It's important to note that the Progressive Caucus budget achieves all this without breaking the bank. By cutting excessive Pentagon spending, enacting fair marginal tax rates for millionaires and billionaires, equalizing the tax treatment of capital income and labor income, making the estate tax more progressive, abolishing inefficient corporate tax loopholes, putting a fee on too-big-to-fail banks, and enacting a tax on Wall Street transactions, our proposal expands safety net programs like Medicare while reducing the nation's deficits. The budget's tax proposals are sound ways to not only raise revenue but restore fairness in our economy. It's unconscionable that, in the 21st century, a major multinational firm like GE could pay no federal tax, or that a billionaire like Warren Buffett could enjoy a lower marginal tax rate than his secretary.

If we believe that budgets are "moral documents," then the dueling budgets released this week present a remarkable contrast in values. Having served in Congress for the past half-century, I can say with authority that the values that define this country are not "survival of the fittest" and "winner takes all."

The values our budget should reflect are the values that the Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of 50 years ago and that the People's Budget reflects today: jobs, justice, and peace.