House Progressives Just Offered A Very Different Kind Of Budget Plan

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., left, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, confer during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, to discuss jobs.

While the House majority introduced a far-from-unanimously supported 2017 budget plan Tuesday, progressive representatives unveiled their own version in a small conference room of the Cannon House Office Building near the Capitol.

The “People’s Budget” includes $1 trillion towards infrastructure, including $765 million for Flint, Michigan and billions in water line improvements. It also takes a huge step forward on climate change, introducing a carbon tax, closing tax loopholes and ending subsidies for oil, gas, and coal companies, and investing in renewable energy and the electric grid.

“It’s a serious budget for renewable energy, and it’s a serious budget for keeping fossil fuels in the ground,” said Lukas Ross, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth, which, along with 15 other environmental and environmental justice groups, sent a letter Tuesday to the House supporting the budget.

“The People’s Budget does actually force us to think about how addressing the climate crisis… is directly related to how we raise revenue,” Ross told ThinkProgress.

In addition to a $25 per ton tax on carbon, the budget includes the text of the End Polluter Welfare Act — what Ross calls “the gold standard” for ending fossil fuel subsidies. These acts would raise revenue, which would allow programs to offset costs passed to low-income consumers.

“We don’t want their real income to be hurt, but we want the price signal,” Josh Bivens, a research and policy director at the Economic Policy Institute, told ThinkProgress. “You have to pay more on your energy bill, but here is a pile of cash to make up for that.”

The differences between the current House budget proposal and the progressive proposal are stark on a multitude of issues, including healthcare, immigration, defense spending, and more.

“Austerity and dismantling, that’s essentially been their philosophy,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told ThinkProgress.

According to the congressman, a national budget is not only a guidepost for how to develop the appropriations bills, it also reflects “the goals, the mission, and the values” of the country. The People’s Budget “reaffirms public health as a priority and it reaffirms that climate change is a reality.”

The difference on energy and environmental issues is significant.

Take the Flint water crisis, for example. In one budget, water infrastructure — which only half of Americans have trust in — is a key investment.

But the Republican proposal does not address water. In a section called “infrastructure,” the only sector specifically mentioned is transportation. It also generally throws regulation out the window.

“Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency continue to implement an unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses, and energy consumers,” the House plan says. “This budget reduces annual funding levels for the EPA.”

And forget about the Clean Power Plan or support for renewable energy.

“To make energy even more affordable, this budget calls for the elimination of regulations, rules, and mandates handed down from Washington, D.C. that only make energy more expensive for families and businesses,” the proposal says. “This budget rescinds unobligated balances from stimulus green energy programs, and calls for reforming and streamlining numerous other research and development programs across the Department of Energy.”

Research by the Department of Energy has directly contributed to lowering the cost of solar, and its loan guarantee program has had a 98 percent success rate, helping to propel the industry to be one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the country.

While there is no chance that the Republican-led House passes anything close to this budget, it will still likely see a vote. House Majority Leader Paul Ryan is expected to bring his party’s budget for a vote soon, and when that happens, the progressive version can be introduced as an amendment that replaces the original in whole. This same phenomenon occurred last year, when just over half the sitting Democrats backed the progressive version.

“This will be our sixth budget that we have proposed, and each year we incrementally increased the votes for it,” Grijalva said. Last year, more than half the Democrats in the House voted for the alternative. “We hope to gain votes again,” Grijalva said.