By John Conyers, Jr.
John Conyers, Jr.
Budgets are moral documents. In allocating government funds, the federal budget makes a definitive statement about our values and the kind of country we aspire to be.
In the decades following the Second World War, this statement was loud and clear: Congress invested in job-creation, a strong safety net and world-class public institutions. From the interstate highway system to Medicare to the Apollo Program, federal budgets facilitated full employment, rising living standards and unprecedented technological progress.
All this was good for business. Workers had the income needed to buy goods and services, which, in turn, gave employers the certainty needed to invest and hire more people. This shared prosperity paved the way not only for GDP growth but also for progress toward a more socially-inclusive society.
Contrast Congress’s postwar budgets with those of today. With nearly 30 million Americans either unemployed or underemployed, Congress continues to make reckless cuts to education, infrastructure, science research, environmental protection, and the criminal justice system. These cuts cost jobs.
The consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers recently estimated that recent budget cuts and the government shutdown have cost the country up to $700 billion in economic activity and about two million jobs. In addition, these cuts have degraded our public institutions. A big decline in federal revenue sharing with states has made higher education unaffordable for millions of students at public
universities and vastly worsened fiscal conditions in cities including Detroit.
While we tend to associate conservatism with tradition and progressivism with new thinking, sometimes the opposite is true. In 2014, the progressive vision for the federal budget aims to return to the shared gains and economic stability of the postwar era, while a conservative version aims for a brave new world of shrinking safety nets and reckless short-term profit maximization.
Great business leaders think long-term. That’s why the private sector should support a far-sighted federal budget that prioritizes job-creation through infrastructure upgrades and workforce training, investments scientific innovation and quality education from pre-K to post-secondary, stronger consumer demand through a fair minimum wage and reliable safety net, as well as action to address environmental risks from drought to rising sea levels.
Some conservatives in Congress might call this “big government.” It is more accurate to call it “smart capitalism.” When people are trained, working, earning a salary, and contributing to the tax base, there’s less need for government assistance, and there are higher levels of consumer demand and investment.
As a result, there’s less debt and more economic growth. It should come as no surprise that the
Congressional Progressive Caucus’s new “Better Off Budget”—a proposal that’s estimated to create 8.8 million jobs by 2017—would also reduce the deficit by $4.08 trillion over the next 10 years.
The United States has a long history of making foresighted investments in its workforce as well as in education, innovation, and conservation. This month, as Congress votes on its budget plans for Fiscal Year 2015, I will urge my colleagues to uphold this proud tradition.
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