Where’s the Alternative to Trump’s Austerity Budget? Look to Bernie Sanders’ Progressive Caucus.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed a radical People’s Budget—but to pass it, we need to take over the Democratic Party.

Joel Bleifuss June 13, 2017

From the budget to the minimum wage, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and its members have long advocated more radical policies than the typical Democrat. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Any­one who has doubts about what’s at stake in the bat­tle for the future of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty should read The People’s Bud­get: A Roadmap for the Resis­tance, released in May by the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus. (Com­prised of 75 U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the CPC is the largest cau­cus in the House.) 

If the best thing one can say about Trump is that he is consistently dead wrong, the second best is that he has galvanized the opposition.

As an eco­nom­ic man­i­festo that puts polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic pow­er back in the hands of the peo­ple,” the People’s Bud­get is not only a rebuke to Trump and his dra­con­ian 2018 bud­get, but a chal­lenge to a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty that has for too long ele­vat­ed the well-being of Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca over that of work­ing peo­ple and the environment. 

In his 2018 bud­get, Trump invests $200 bil­lion in infra­struc­ture spend­ing over the next 10 years. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao explained it this way to reporters: The administration’s goal is to seek long-term reform on how infra­struc­ture projects are reg­u­lat­ed, fund­ed, deliv­ered and main­tained.” That’s Repub­li­can-speak for pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic assets.” To help fund these reforms,” Trump is look­ing to raise the gaso­line tax and turn Inter­state high­ways into toll roads, two mea­sures that would dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact rur­al Americans. 

The People’s Bud­get, oper­at­ing under the rad­i­cal prin­ci­ple that pub­lic mon­ey should go toward the pub­lic good,” would invest $2 tril­lion in infra­struc­ture over the next 10 years to trans­form our fos­sil-fuel ener­gy sys­tem, over­bur­dened mass tran­sit, dete­ri­o­rat­ing schools, lead-con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed water sys­tems, and crum­bling roads and bridges.” 

The Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Insti­tute esti­mates that in its first year, the CPC bud­get would cre­ate 2.4 mil­lion jobs for peo­ple of all back­grounds in both urban and rur­al Amer­i­ca. The CPC pro­pos­es fund­ing these pub­lic works with a finan­cial trans­ac­tion tax on the sale of stocks and bonds. 

Yet, no mat­ter how hard one wish­es, the CPC’s grand ideas will come to naught if they aren’t accom­pa­nied by a cor­re­spond­ing plan to gain the pow­er need­ed to imple­ment them. 

If the best thing one can say about Trump is that he is con­sis­tent­ly dead wrong, the sec­ond best is that he has gal­va­nized the oppo­si­tion, and that oppo­si­tion is mobi­liz­ing to take back Con­gress in 2018. After all, a bud­get like The People’s Bud­get only has a chance of pass­ing if we have a pro­gres­sive Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress and a Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent — and that can only hap­pen if the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty man­ages to address the social dis­con­tent in the body politic and return to its pro­gres­sive, pop­ulist roots. 

One hope­ful sign: The Bernie-Hillary divide has begun to blur as pro­gres­sive Clin­tonites find com­mon cause with Berniecrats. Theo Ander­son reports in this issue’s cov­er sto­ry, Bernie Sander Sup­port­ers Are Tak­ing Over the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Machine, One State at a Time,” how Kim­ber­ly Ellis, a pro­gres­sive African-Amer­i­can activist who sup­port­ed Hillary Clin­ton in the pri­maries, made a bid in May for the chair of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, backed by both the Cal­i­for­nia Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion and Our Rev­o­lu­tion. In a hot­ly con­test­ed elec­tion, Ellis lost, but only by 62 out of about 3,000 votes cast — a vic­to­ry if one sees the bal­lot box being half full, rather than half empty. 

If the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment wants to win in 2018 and 2020, they should embrace their left flank and engage with the ener­gized con­stituen­cies that are clam­or­ing for a just redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and pow­er in Amer­i­can society.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH