Properly understood, these are all problems stemming from the budget, from how we choose to spend (or not spend) the collective wealth of our society. Do we want renewables or do we want war? Do we want subsidies for housing or subsidies for oil? Do we want guns or butter?
Once again, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has provided an answer for all of these questions with its People’s Budget—a progressive alternative to both the austerity budget of the GOP and the austerity-lite of the Obama Administration.
When it comes to education, job creation, or housing, the People’s Budget is the most serious document in Washington. It expands funding for workers displaced by bad trade deals, guarantees debt-free public education, and commits over $1 trillion to infrastructure spending over the next decade—including billions set aside for new water infrastructure in cities like Flint. But perhaps most of all, this is a serious budget when it comes to keeping fossil fuels in the ground and ensuring a just and speedy transition to renewable energy.
The People’s Budget starts by proposing to end over $130 billion in oil, gas, and coal subsidies. The lion’s share are tax breaks, some of them over a century old, but also targeted for elimination are royalty-free leasing on public lands, loan guarantees for fossil energy projects, and federal R&D into oxymorons like “clean coal.” Modeled on legislation from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the subsidy repeal provisions in the People’s Budget are the most ambitious out there, and cast a far wider net than the subsidies President Obama is on record opposing.
Breaking the influence of fossil fuels in our economy means breaking the influence of fossil fuels over our democracy. To that end, the People’s Budget would set aside $12 billion over the next decade to cover the public financing of our elections. This matters a lot. The 2016 primary season isn’t even over yet, and Big Oil has already poured over $13 million into Congressional races and over $100 million into the presidency. Climate solutions require politicians who aren’t beholden to Big Oil, and even though public financing can’t guarantee direct climate results, it can guarantee a more level playing field for candidates not drowning in oil money.
But all of these policies come in behind the single most important climate solution on the menu—an economy-wide price on carbon. The fossil fuel industry is still pumping pollution into the atmosphere free of charge, passing the costs of climate disruption along to present and future generations at no cost to themselves. Globally, the cost of these unpriced externalities was as high as $5 trillion in 2015 alone. The People’s Budget proposes a $25 per ton carbon price—nowhere near high enough to reflect the damage of climate change but still better than nothing. This is an important line in the sand, especially since the Obama administration hasn’t bothered sending Congress a budget with a carbon price since 2009.
The People’s Budget doesn’t pay for itself with magic asterisks or other accounting gimmicks. It foots the bill for higher social and environmental spending by offering a slimmer Pentagon and a fairer tax code. Wall Street would pay more through a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions. Millionaires and billionaires would pay more through the creation of a new tax bracket. And the rich would have fewer chances to hide income through a cap on itemized deductions and an end to special favors like the mortgage interest deduction for vacation homes.
At a time when austerity is a powerful idea in both parties, the People’s Budget is an important alternative. Even in a Congress run by Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell, it is a reminder that we have the money to build a green economy and whole lot else. The question is whether we choose to spend it?
Link to original article from Daily Kos