84 House Democrats Say ‘No’ to Austerity

The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget may have failed, but it failed well.

Cole Stangler

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, speaks at a January 16 news conference to announce new legislation about eliminating the federal debt ceiling. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives took up floor debate and voted on three Democratic alternatives to the Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) budget — the first a version of the Senate Democrats’ budget, the second a proposal from the Black Caucus, and the third a budget crafted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which with 72 members is the largest Democratic Caucus in the House.

The Back to Work budget, among other things, called for raising taxes on the highest income bracket from 45 to 49 percent, taxing capital gains in the same way as ordinary income, enacting a financial transactions tax, returning Pentagon spending to 2006 levels, and implementing a carbon tax.

The CPC’s Back to Work budget, like the other Democratic budgets, never had a realistic possibility of passing in the House, which is dominated by a Republican majority that has now passed the Ryan budget three years in a row. But the CPC’s ability to garner support on the Democratic side for its budget serves as one way of evaluating the kind of leverage the caucus has today in Congress. And while most media attention focuses on the supposedly deep ideological divisions within the Republican Party, the vote on the CPC’s budget can serve as a lens into similar kinds of splits in the Democratic Party in the House.

At a meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, supporters and allies of the Progressive Caucus said they were hoping the budget would receive more than 100 votes — a figure that would mean that more than half of the Democratic caucus supported the budget. The CPC’s budget ultimately fell short of that target, losing by a vote of 84-327. In 2012, by contrast, it was rejected 78-346. Among Democrats this year, it was rejected 84-102, good for a six-vote improvement from last year’s Budget for All. 

What issues should In These Times cover in 2013? We want to hear from you. Take our quick poll.

CPC Executive Director Brad Bauman was hoping the budget could do even better, but said that he was happy that we are moving right direction as far as building more and more support for these baseline progressive ideals.”

The CPC has advanced similar budget proposals over the last three years. This year’s budget, like those previous efforts, stood in contrast to other congressional budgets that included cuts to social spending and other entitlement programs” while maintaining steady growth in military spending. The Back to Work budget, among other things, called for raising taxes on the highest income bracket from 45 to 49 percent, taxing capital gains in the same way as ordinary income, enacting a financial transactions tax, returning Pentagon spending to 2006 levels, and implementing a carbon tax. 

As CPC members took to the House floor in defense of the budget, many criticized the Republican Party’s insistence on deficit reduction above all else and stressed the need to address the jobs crisis. The CPC’s budget was estimated to create 6.9 million jobs, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.

The number one issue before our country is not the deficit. It’s getting the economy going and creating jobs,” said Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of the middle class and the neediest, the Back to Work budget has the back of America’s middle class.”

This time around, the CPC’s budget seemed to avoid a media blackout and actually penetrated the liberal mainstream fairly successfully — problems that have plagued it in the past.

One of the few times the budget received any coverage in the mainstream press in 2011 was the red-baiting masterpiece from the Washington Posts Dana Milbank. He wrote:

[The CPC budget] gives a sense of how things would be if liberals ran the world: no cuts in Social Security benefits, government-negotiated Medicare drug prices, and increased income and Social Security taxes for the wealthy. Corporations and investors would be hit with a variety of new fees and taxes. And the military would face a shock-and-awe accounting: a 22 percent cut in Army soldiers, 30 percent for the Marines, 20 percent for the Navy and 15 percent for the Air Force. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would end, and weapons programs would go begging. … Their oft-repeated slogan, The People’s Budget,” conveyed an unhelpful association with the people’s republic” and other socialist undertakings.

This year, though, the Back to Work budget was featured prominently on Bill Maher’s show and praised by unexpected supporters like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. And in what can only be taken as a positive sign of the budget’s growing visibility, it was even the target of a rant by David Brooks, who in his New York Times column was scornful of progressives hermetically sealed in the house of government” who seem to believe that government is … the source of growth, job creation and prosperity.”

Fortunately for Brooks, Wednesday’s vote showed that most Democrats in Congress have yet to adopt such progressive beliefs.

A list of those Democrats who voted against the CPC budget, which included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), can be found here.

While it did earn the support of more centrist Democrats, the Black Caucus’ budget fared only slightly better, losing 105-305. The Senate Democratic budget lost 154-261.

Cole Stangler writes about labor and the environment. His reporting has also appeared in The Nation, VICE, The New Republic and International Business Times. He lives in Paris, France. He can be reached at cole[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow him @colestangler.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue