STATEMENT: President's Plan Recaptures the Fiscal High Road

Release Date: 
April 13, 2011

 Washington, DC – In response to the President’s address on the federal budget, Demos’ Heather McGhee calls for a bolder commitment to recovery:

"Today, the President of the United States laid out his vision for restoring fiscal responsibility in a way that does not impede our fledgling recovery or violate the core intergenerational promises made during the American Century. Demos applauds the President's leadership.

First, the positives. The President reaffirmed his commitment to the type of public investment that made America great, such as education, infrastructure, and encouraging innovations in energy and science. He also recognized that we can no longer justify a defense budget that has contributed to 2 out of every 3 dollars in increased discretionary spending since 2001

He addressed one of the real drivers of long-term debt — health care costs — by targeting the source of cost increases, instead of simply targeting the government or individual payers of these increases, as the Ryan plan does. His courageous approach — strengthening the Independent Payment Advisory Board and allowing more generics competition and government bargaining — directly challenges the insurance and drug lobby who hold far too much sway in Washington.

The President also offered a strong counter to the worst elements of the conservative budget orthodoxy. He either explicitly or implicitly rejected the most economically damaging proposals, including: continuation of the Bush tax slashing ideology that brought us a job-growth-free decade; an 18 percent GDP spending cap that would guarantee our international decline; and privatization and block granting of Medicare and Medicaid.   

Unfortunately, the President has retreated from the urgency of joblessness. He resisted proposals that would send us back into Recession, yes, but where is the plan to put 29 million under- and unemployed Americans back to work? He rejected the right-wing war against the American government, yes, but when will he wage war against economic inequality and middle-class decline, for which government is the most powerful weapon?  

With federal tax receipts at the lowest share of the economy in three generations — and corporate taxes at a record low, any legitimate deficit plan must raise considerable revenue. The President does not appear to have that intention. His plan embraces the same basic bad math of the Bowles-Simpson plan: $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in additional tax revenue. Fortunately, the inclusion of interest payments with spending will provide more balance than the economically unsound Bowles-Simpson approach. Nevertheless, we must admit that we have a revenue problem, and will in fact need more spending to rebuild a middle-class economy.  We simply cannot power a 21st century, high-speed rail economy on a 20th century steam engine tax base.

Let us be clear: the conservative fiscal vision is austerity for the vast majority of Americans and publicly-financed charity for a narrow elite. This cannot stand, and the President made that clear.  

Here are some ways that policymakers can improve on the strong foundation the President set today:

  • Commit to Retirement Security. With employers failing to provide adequate private pensions, Social Security benefits will need to be higher for most future retirees to sustain today's living standards. Young workers may be relieved that their benefits won't be "slashed" in the President's vision, but without major reform of our private retirement system, any decrease is unacceptable (and unnecessary, as higher payroll taxes could fund sustained benefit levels).

In other, less-reported news, the Congressional Progressive Caucus unanimously voted yesterday to release its own alternative budget. The CPC's fiscal plan delivers a bolder, more coherent vision of what's broken in the economy, who broke it, and how to fix it."

On Thursday, Demos will publish a scorecard that rates the major budget and deficit reduction plans on key criteria. For more information or to speak to an expert, see contact info above.

Demos' Taxes Matter Week will also address these issues and more. Throughout the week, we're publishing expert analysis and creative infographics to raise awareness about how and why taxes are a vital source of revenue and ensure America's success. To see more, visit www.ourfiscalsecurity.org.

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