A budget for working America

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To hear corporate America tell it, our economic recovery is going great. The top 1 percent of earners saw their incomes grow by 31.4 percent from 2009-2012. Oil companies are seeing record profits.

Unfortunately, that’s not the recovery — or the economy — working people are seeing.

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The “bottom” 99 percent — that is, the vast majority of working people in this country — saw their incomes grow by only 0.4 percent in that same time span. Poverty and income inequality remain at record highs. We’re not taking care of working America.

That’s why we need a federal budget that reflects real public needs. The Congressional Progressive Caucus just introduced its Better Off Budget proposal to provide the working people of America the voice they need in Washington. We hope they take a careful look.

The budget takes a lot of common-sense steps. It makes sure America’s infrastructure, which hasn’t been repaired in decades and requires $3.6 trillion to simply bring up to standard, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, is fixed and modernized.

It helps America’s long-term unemployed maintain access to training and employment services so they can return to the labor market and contribute to our economy.

It provides America’s police, firefighters, teachers and healthcare workers with the support they need to stay on the job, earn what they deserve and keep supporting their communities.

These are sensible investments that make America stronger. The return on investment is high for all of us. We need our roads and bridges to be safe and secure, our police and firefighters to be adequately equipped and well rested, and our teachers to be well trained and our schools sufficiently staffed.

Many budget proposals in Washington cater to the highest bidder. Often that’s the fossil fuel industry, as evidenced by the tens of billions of dollars in tax loopholes and subsidies provided to oil, gas and coal companies. Their lobbyists are hard at work to keep these loopholes and subsidies in place. The defense industry, which continues to lobby Congress with more than $130 million in annual campaign contributions, is always busy pushing expensive pet projects.

The federal budget should serve each and every taxpayer. That’s not a pie-in-the-sky dream for the future — it’s a bedrock principle of democracy. The government works for you no matter how much money you make or how many lobbyists you can afford.

That’s what the Better Off Budget is all about. It makes quality education, healthcare and housing more affordable. It makes the environment cleaner and air more breathable. It makes jobs with livable wages more attainable, taxes fairer, national security smarter and immigration more practical.

Budget decisions today aren’t usually made with middle America in mind. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is trying to bring the process back where it belongs. If we truly want every American better off, it’ll take some big policy decisions: public financing of political campaigns to curb special-interest influence, a public healthcare option so nobody gets left behind, a modest tax on dirty greenhouse gas emissions, an end to corporate offshore profits hidden in tax-haven islands, and regulation of risky derivatives trading and reckless speculation.

A federal budget is better off without all the special-interest giveaways we’ve started to take for granted. Americans want to see their dollars working for them, not lobbyists or special interest groups. That’ll help restore the public’s faith in Congress. And that is exactly what the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Better Off Budget does: it ensures that more of each taxpayer’s dollar goes back into his or her community, serving local needs.

It’s time to make America better off. Our budget is the plan to do it.

Grijalva has represented Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District since 2003. He sits on the Education and the Workforce; and the Natural Resources committees, and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Shank is the associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and adjunct faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.