At best, 2011 can be described as a middling year for progressives when it comes to the economy. Though the economy continued its modest recovery, and despite recent positive signs of improvement, many progressive goals went unfulfilled.
Thanks to GOP obstruction, no widespread jobs package passed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is still without a director, and important areas of investment faced unnecessary budget cuts on both the state and federal level. Progressives were, however, able to block much of the House GOP’s radical agenda — preventing Republicans from gutting Medicare and thwarting repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Wall Street reform laws.
In a perfect world, Congress would make job creation its highest priority when it returns in 2012. But that is unlikely given Republican control of the House, where the GOP continues to push an agenda that would actually kill jobs. With that in mind, ThinkProgress compiled a list of seven goals for progressives that could boost the economic recovery over the next year:
Address the housing crisis: The housing crisis continues to threaten America’s economic recovery, but while Republicans continue to offer no solutions, multiple state attorneys general have launched investigations into deceptive and fraudulent foreclosure processes. Those investigations could lead to prosecutions and fines for banks that knowingly defrauded customers. And while they could help homeowners who were hurt by predatory banks and lenders, other solutions — like expanding mortgage relief programs, ensuring that settlements with banks and lenders includes substantial money for homeowners, and pressuring federal regulators to punish predatory lenders — should be on the agenda for 2012, especially with millions of Americans owing more on their homes than they are worth.
Keep focusing on income inequality: Occupy Wall Street thrust income inequality onto the political radar in the last half of 2011, making it such a hot topic that even conservative budget hawks like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) were talking about it. With American income inequality now worse than in many poorer countries (and maybe even worse than it was in Ancient Rome) and dragging the recovery, it is an area that must be addressed. Furthering the 99 Percent Movement and keeping the issue of income inequality alive should keep Congress focused on the lower and middle classes who were hit hardest both by the recession and the GOP’s widespread budget cuts that followed.
Confirm Richard Cordray: President Obama nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the first director of the CFPB in 2011, but his confirmation process stalled in the Senate when Republicans, who spent the last year trying to gut the Dodd-Frank law that created the CFPB, refused to relent on their opposition to the agency. Confirming Cordray would allow the agency to actually progress toward its mandate of protecting consumers from the predatory financial practices that hurt so many through the recession.
Protect and restore state education budgets: Republicans across the country took the axe to state education budgets in 2011, leaving school districts with less money to run schools, maintain after-school programs, and hire teachers than they had even before the recession. At the same time, many of those states preserved tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Unemployed teachers make up a large portion of the half-million public sector workers who have lost jobs since 2009, a problem Obama sought to fix with a state aid package included in the American Jobs Act. Restoring and preserving state education budgets is important for two major reasons: it allows more teachers to be hired, thus reducing unemployment, and it ensures that American children will be better prepared to compete in the global economy of the future.
Raise the minimum wage in more states: Eight states are boosting their minimum wage in 2012, benefiting 1.4 million workers and creating roughly 3,000 jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Raising the minimum wage across the country is and important and necessary step in the recovery. The federal minimum is currently $7.25, but it would take a minimum wage of $9.92 to match the buying power of the minimum wage in 1968.
End the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy: The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have blown a hole in the federal budget since their passage in 2003, carrying a 10-year cost of $2.5 trillion that prevented us from investing in many vital areas. Even though the wealthy are paying historically low tax rates, Congress passed a one-year extension last December. Preventing another such extension in 2012 would both address the federal budget deficit and allow Congress to avoid painful cuts to programs that benefit the lower and middle classes.
Boost funding for the CFTC: Under Dodd-Frank, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission is responsible for policing the derivatives market — the investments that played a major role in the financial crisis. Despite that daunting task, House Republicans succeeded in their efforts to gut the CFTC budget, cutting about a third of the funding requested by President Obama. Increasing the CFTC’s funding would allow it to better regulate investment banks and financial institutions, decreasing the odds of another such crisis in the future.