Budget. Congress. Hope; now, those are three words that you don't often see together. With all of the political drama around our nation's economy, it's easy to forget that the federal budget process offers a tremendous opportunity, not just a tremendous headache. Our leaders in Congress have a chance right now to help ease our nation's most pressing struggles -- from the declining middle class to the rising threat of climate change. And some of them are working to do just that.
Earlier this week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus released The Back to Work Budget, a proposal that offers long-term solutions to our challenges while capitalizing on opportunities to create good jobs and build strong, healthy communities. It calls for many of the same measures that Green For All supports -- from ending giveaways to polluters to investing in the kind of green industries that create good, high-wage jobs that can't be shipped overseas.
This Budget offers something we desperately need: a practical solution that builds America up with 21st century infrastructure, clean energy and good middle-class jobs -- instead of cutting us down by crippling innovation, letting corporate polluters call the shots, and cutting vital programs that protect senior citizens, kids and other vulnerable Americans.
Here are a few things The Back to Work Budget would do:
• End handouts to big polluters: For too long, polluters like the coal and oil industries have gotten away with passing their costs along to the rest of us in the form of toxic air and water, pollution-related health problems, and stifled economic growth. The Back to Work Budget addresses this problem head-on. It eliminates billions in subsidies to big polluters. It asks fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share, by placing a $25 per-pound fee on dangerous carbon pollution -- and it directs the funds back to communities hit hardest by pollution and climate change.
• Expand clean energy and energy efficiency: Wind and solar power and energy efficiency are not only the best way to fight climate change and keep our communities safe -- they are also among the fastest growing industries in America. The clean energy sector creates three times as many jobs per dollar invested as the fossil fuel industry. Energy efficiency work like weatherization relies largely on materials that are made in the U.S.A., giving our manufacturing sector a much-need boost.
• Invest in American workers: The greatest asset we can give to businesses is a trained, capable American workforce. The Back to Work Budget not only creates new jobs, it creates skilled workers by expanding job corps and career training programs.
• Fix our broken infrastructure: If we want to support innovation and reclaim America's role as a global leader, the first thing we need to do is fix the systems that keep our country running -- like roads, bridges and water infrastructure. And we'll create jobs in the process. By repairing our crumbling stormwater systems, we could employ two million people. The Back to Work Budget substantially increases infrastructure investments -- a surefire way to expand prosperity.
This budget strategy would make a real, noticeable difference for more low-income and middle-class Americans. It would shrink unemployment to 5 percent, and would create seven million jobs in the first year alone. Compare that with House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's proposed budget, which shifts the burden of deficit reduction onto the shoulders of those who can least afford it: Low-income Americans.
The Ryan budget, coined The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget, imposes extreme cuts on programs vital to seniors, women, veterans, and low-income communities, but extends huge giveaways to the oil industry and other polluters. For wealthy oil and coal companies, it's a dream come true. They not only continue to receive billions of dollars in tax breaks, but Ryan would hand over even more of our shared public assets -- including opening the gates to drilling, fracking, and mining on America's treasured public lands.
If asking senior citizens and other vulnerable Americans to make sacrifices in order to subsidize oil companies (whose CEOs typically rake in roughly $13 million a year) seems like madness, that's because it is. Yet it's exactly what supporters of the Ryan budget are proposing we do.
Instead of talking about what we can tear down, we should be talking about what we can build up. The best way to reduce our long-term deficit is to put America back to work. We need our country to start making things again -- and the green economy offers one of the best opportunities to do it.
The Back to Work Budget is a good start in creating the kind of world we want our kids and grandkids to grow up in -- a world with clean air and water, safe neighborhoods, and healthy, high-wage jobs for more Americans.
Follow Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phaedrael