THE BLOG
11/13/2013 10:14 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

A Progressive's Notes for the Budget Conference Meeting Today

This morning, 29 senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle meet to work out a federal budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The results of these budget conference negotiations are key to avoiding another government shutdown and preventing debt default threats. Manufactured crises have already cost us millions of jobs and damaged the recovery. We can't repeat those mistakes.

Earlier this year, I and many of my Congressional Progressive Caucus colleagues laid out a responsible, jobs-focused Back to Work Budget that would get the economy back on track. We've repeatedly said creating jobs is the best way to reduce the deficit. In fact, we established a responsible path to creating 7 million of them almost immediately. Now we're urging members of the budget conference to adopt these solutions.

Our recipe for prosperity is simple: protect the safety net, stop the austerity, give the economy room to grow, and don't pursue further deficit reduction at the expense of national priorities. The question is whether budget negotiators will listen.

One of the quickest and best ways to show our commitment to jobs and a stronger economy would be repealing the mindless, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration. These cuts, which were designed to be so harmful they'd never become law, have dragged down everything from Head Start to the National Institutes of Health. They prevent our economy from recovering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that eliminating the sequester would generate 900,000 new jobs in the third quarter of 2014. We need to stop hurting working people and give them opportunities. The last thing Americans looking for work need to hear is another belt-tightening lecture.

Unfortunately, that's what they're getting right now. A lot of conservatives are still pushing for cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. The Progressive Caucus agrees with the majority of Americans that those cuts are unnecessary and unacceptable. We shouldn't raid Social Security or sacrifice future growth to today's austerity craze.

This is important not just to today's retirees, but to generations of Americans whose economic future we're shaping with our decisions. Washington's obsession with taking retirement security away is sitting like a wet blanket on the economy, slowing growth and depriving Americans of work and income. I strongly oppose benefit cuts -- such as increasing the Medicare eligibility age or using the so-called chained CPI calculation to reduce Social Security benefits -- being a part of any budget deal, and I'm not alone.

We need to take a hard look at how we spend our money. For years, education funding has stagnated while military spending sits on its comfortable Cold War pedestal. The Pentagon budget has doubled over the last decade and now represents more than half of all discretionary spending in the country. In other words, of the federal agencies that get funded through standard appropriations every year, the Pentagon gets more than 50 cents of every dollar we spend -- more than every other federal agency combined.

Non-military spending, which covers everything from education and environmental protection to justice and transportation, has already suffered from years of harmful cuts. We need a budget and a national jobs program that put American families back to work, not 30-year-old spending priorities.

Instead of taking money out of the pockets of working Americans, budget negotiators should look at closing egregious tax loopholes and rooting out waste. Savings from winding down the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone could pay for repealing the entire sequester. Congress should close loopholes that allow tax breaks for vacation homes, jets, yachts and corporate meals and lodging. They should look at empowering Medicare to negotiate drug prices or offer drug rebates. They should certainly end decades of government handouts to Big Oil.

We're better than the right-wing agenda of austerity, higher military spending, and limited opportunities for working people. The public is much hungrier for change than the Beltway media seems ready to admit. The budget team negotiating this week should remember that.