Ideas on A Progressive Economic Message

With budget deficits now estimated to hit $448 billion for FY 2005, and the president calling for permanent extension of his tax cuts and $2 trillion in new debt to privatize Social Security, threats to progressive priorities are real and present.  The conservative strategy is well under way: aggressively slash taxes on the wealthy; run up huge budget deficits on the premise that no one cares; and then force massive cuts in critical domestic spending.  Progressives must be vigilant in exposing this ruse to the American public and highlighting the wrong choices and moral-less values of conservative leadership.  American Progress has been working to develop clear, concise messages to defeat the president’s initiatives and to promote a progressive alternative focused on increasing economic opportunity, rewarding work, and building a solid middle class.  We certainly hold no monopoly on the truth on these issues but wanted to share some of the ideas and approaches that have emerged thus far. We hope to continue our work on this front and would welcome your input and suggestions going forward. Based on this work, we suggest a 4-part message strategy to help define the contrasts with the president and Congress and then provide some core principles to help define a progressive alternative.The Problem with the Conservative Economic Agenda“Wrong Choices. Wrong Priorities.” This is the core of the criticism of conservative economic agenda. Americans expect their leaders to make the right decisions and push the right priorities. President Bush and a conservative-led Congress have failed to make the right decisions and now Americans will have to pay the price.

Here is a suggested message to highlight the damage done by conservative economic policies:

“President Bush and Congress squandered historic budget surpluses that could have saved Social Security. They have spent over $200 billion on a war in Iraq that is plagued by mismanagement and lack of planning. They’ve racked up huge trade deficits and mortgaged our children’s future to foreign banks and governments.

Conservative priorities have made the struggle of the middle class even more of a challenge: jobs are going overseas; quality health care is increasingly out of reach; educational opportunities are down; and the tax system is rigged not to help them, but big corporations and the top 1% of wage earners instead.

And what does the president want to do?

He wants to make it worse. More tax cuts for the wealthy. A $2 trillion dollar plan to privatize Social Security. More deficits. More foreign borrowing.

Americans know these are the wrong choices and the wrong priorities. We need leaders who will make the right choices and push the right priorities to keep America strong.

Under progressive stewardship of the budget, the economy was strong, the middle class was better off and America’s budget’s were balanced. There are better choices to be made.”

“Cutting investment in what keeps America strong.” The White House is seeking to make the most of its incompetence and mismanagement by forcing massive cuts and harsh caps on discretionary spending and entitlements. Progressives must make the most of these efforts by highlighting the severe budget implications for ordinary Americans.

“Relying on budget cuts to finance an irresponsible tax cut and a mismanaged war short changes investment in what helps America stay strong — a vibrant and thriving middle class.

Your community; your safety; your schools; your health care will be sacrificed to pay for President Bush’s wrong choices. It’s our veterans, seniors, kids, and the poor who will have to suffer for the president’s wrong priorities.

Conservative budgets do not reflect the values most Americans would want to see from their government — promoting the interests of the few over investments in the future and opportunity for the many is not the right choice.

The degree to which America is fulfilling its promises as a country is measured by the health, safety, security and opportunities for the middle class. By that measure, President Bush’s economic agenda has failed to invest in critical ways to keep our country strong.”

“We now see WHO and WHAT conservatives really value.” The absolute surrender of conservative politicians to the needs and desires of corporations and the wealthy presents important openings for progressives to stress the lack of moral vision and wrong values that drive conservative tax and budget policies.

“President Bush claimed to be a ‘compassionate conservative.’ He said he wanted to reward those who worked hard and did their part for the country.

Now we see what he really values: Wealth over work. Corporations and the wealthy over the middle class.

At a time when the president is asking American soldiers and middle class taxpayers to sacrifice for the country, he is telling corporations and the wealthy that they owe nothing and have no obligation to support the national interest. He’s giving them tax breaks for doing nothing.

We now know who and what the president truly values. Unfortunately, it’s not what Americans signed up for.”

“The consequences for America are dire.” Progressives must highlight how conservative stewardship is undermining America’s economic strength. Fiscal mismanagement affects everyone. We must raise the stakes for Americans and show them the very real consequences of the wrong choices and wrong priorities of the president and Congress.

“The severe mismanagement of our economy can not continue without serious repercussions.

In the short term, skyrocketing deficits and fiscal irresponsibility will affect everything from education and health care to the environment and traffic on our roads.

In the long term, the administration’s mismanagement threatens to turn America into a ‘debtor nation’ with diminished global power. We are mortgaging our country to foreigners and losing control of our own economic security.

All for what? To pay for the wrong choices and the wrong priorities. Tax cuts for the few. The privatization of Social Security. A mismanaged war in Iraq.

The consequences for America are dire. They must be addressed now before the president and Congress turn America into a second-rate economic power.”

A Progressive Framework on the Economy

As we make the case against conservative leadership on the economy, progressives have a real chance to show Americans our principles for moving the country forward. Americans need to hear what we believe as much as they hear about the programs and specific policies we advocate.

While no means exhaustive, we identified three primary components of a progressive alternative on the economy:

1. Bringing together all Americans. First, and foremost, progressives need to stress our commitment to providing economic opportunity and social mobility for everyone — rich, poor, and middle class alike. America is stronger when a secure and growing middle class is recognized as essential to the economic security of our nation; when economic policies are fair; and when public policies like our budget are driven by religious and moral principles of fairness, compassion, and respect for others.

2. Building and investing in America’s future. Working together, we must recommit ourselves and our resources to building and investing in people, research, technology, training, and workplace environments that can keep the American economy strong. We should not sit by and watch as the rest of the world makes the necessary public investments to remain competitive in the global economy. Our citizens deserve and need this investment and our economy demands it.

3. Rewarding work. The heart of America has always been its middle class. America should reward individual initiative, ingenuity and hard work and provide people with the economic and social opportunities to make the most of their talents and dreams. We must return to policies that spread the tax burden fairly and require those with sufficient means to pay their fair share. We should pursue budgets that invest in people and promote opportunities to get ahead. Rewarding work is critical to maintaining a fair and equitable society and a strong economy.