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Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives

I’ve recently received fundraising letters from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Chuck Schumer on behalf of their Democratic Party’s campaign committees. Mostly, all they ask for is money, though Schumer’s letter includes a short tough letter to President Trump for us to sign which they promise to deliver to the White House.

Although politicians review and sign fundraising letters, rarely do they write them. That lucrative task is left to political consulting firms that also profitably consult for corporations. That’s why the letters are so formulaic.

Over the years I have urged incumbents and candidates for elected office to do more than ask people for money. Why not ask them for their time, their minds, and their dedication by having “time-raisers,” not just “fund-raisers”? Great idea they uniformly say. This never gets done. Their consultants think asking for anything other than money diminishes donations. So the dreary letters continue to arrive with grand promises and few specifics. For example, both letters mentioned the need for higher minimum wages. Wages have been stagnant for many years while corporate profits and executive bonuses have skyrocketed on the backs of millions of American workers. But there is no mention of how high a minimum wage (gutted by inflation since the 1970s) these Democrats are committed to supporting. Similarly, there are no specifics that address protecting health care, social security, reversing huge tax cuts to big business, debloating military budgets and stopping costly, reckless wars. If politicians don’t give you specifics and timetables, they’re creating their own loopholes should they be elected.

Now comes the spanking new “People’s Budget” released by the House of Representatives Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party (see “The People’s Budget”). It is 40 pages with charts that rebuke and reject the cruel and vicious agenda of the corporatist, war-mongering, deficit-booming Republican toadies of Wall Street, and the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. The organized lobbies against the modest necessities of workers, consumers, and defenseless communities dominate the federal budget process.

But the CPC’s “People’s Budget” has its own infirmities. It doesn’t address very weak corporate crime enforcement, to repealing specific anti-labor laws, like the Taft-Hartley Act, to being number-specific in cutting the bloated, corporate crime-ridden military budget, or even giving a number to a higher minimum wage.

Showing both large expenditures for restoring social safety net programs and large savings by reducing corporate welfare, restoring corporate taxes, and adding some new ones such as a speculation tax on Wall Street transactions, the “People’s Budget” still comes off as a blizzard of funding for old programs with their welfare industries.

For example, the Progressive Caucus Budget does not recommend a universal basic income (UBI)—historically supported by liberal and conservative thinkers and politicians. UBI, in an age of rapid automation, would reduce the need for some of those welfare programs and bureaucracies.

The “People’s Budget” goes into details explaining its health care policies, without even mentioning what it proposes to do about $350 billion in annual billing fraud and abuse by the health care vendors. Not a word about 5,000 or more lives lost every week in our country from preventable problems in hospitals, according to a recent Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study. These are gigantic tragedies destroying peoples’ lives, regardless of how important it is to provide affordable and accessible healthcare.

Although the “People’s Budget” covers a myriad of needs, it is strangely minimalist on strengthening democracy besides stopping voter repression. Can you have a “People’s Budget” without people power?

These Progressives should have included a section on “Shift of Power” from the few to the many, arguing for a fuller system of electoral reform, experiential civic skills training in schools, fundamental corporate reform (from corporate charters to corporate personhood), and giving people usable tools for democratic engagement.

A full-blown assault on the corporate destruction of freedom of contract (one-sided fine print) and the (tort) law of wrongful injuries should have come naturally to these Progressives. But it did not.

Timid on taking on corporate-induced deficits, quagmires of boomeranging Empire (though “People’s Budget” advocates for auditing the Pentagon) and the massive waste and loss of life from health care commercialism (that far less expensive single payer has avoided in Canada, with better outcomes), the Progressive Caucus report reads too much like a revised New Deal laundry list.

Its wonky style does not lend itself to on the ground campaigning before voters hungry for regaining control over their lives and looking for changes that restore self-reliant economies detached from the speculative risks and greed of the global corporate disorder.

People are essentially looking for fair play, empowerment, respect, voice, and reduction of the overall rat race that provokes so much anxiety, dread, and fear. They want time, yes time, for their families and other pursuits than sinking into deeper debts from distant forces way beyond their accountability. This “People’s Budget,” to gain traction, cannot be about “bread” alone. Thomas Jefferson understood the political economy, but he also knew the importance of non-material goals that connected the economy to “the pursuit of happiness.”

Let’s hope candidates for the November election remember those finer intangibles that move more people to become better informed voters.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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