No Regrets, Madam Speaker


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Americans Are Frustrated Today, But in the Future Will Prefer the 111th Congress Over the 112th

Americans may not realize it today, but the legislation enacted by the 111th Congress will be seen in the years to come as major victories for working people. The legislation that Citizens for Tax Justice was most involved in — the economic recovery act, health care reform and the smaller jobs bills  — will have positive effects on Americans everywhere. They reduced unemployment significantly below what it would otherwise have been and will end the worst abuses and inefficiencies in our health care system.

But Americans understandably only see that unemployment is still unacceptably high and the health care law is a long way from taking effect. In frustration, voters opted for what they believed would be a change from the status quo.

There will come a day when the economy recovers and it will become clear that the collapse would have been far greater without the economic recovery act. There will come a day when it will become clear that Speaker Pelosi's Congress stopped health insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions and capping benefits when people get sick, and it'll be clear that 32 million Americans owe their coverage to this legislation.  The progressive accomplishments of the 111th Congress will then get the credit they deserve.

There will also come a day, probably not too far off, when Americans will realize that the incoming House leadership does not have much of a plan for America other than slashing programs that the middle-class depends on and providing more tax breaks for the wealthy investor class.

An exit poll done for the Associated Press on Tuesday gave voters three alternatives for Congress to focus on, and found that four out of ten voters wanted Congress to focus on reducing the budget deficit, an equal number wanted Congress to focus on creating jobs, and the remainder want Congress to focus on cutting taxes. An exit poll conducted for the AFL-CIO showed that 63 percent of voters wanted the Bush tax cuts to expire at least for taxpayers with incomes above $250,000.

Unfortunately, the team that will lead the majority party in the House of Representatives has offered tax cuts that increase the budget deficit and have no plan for job creation other than those same tax cuts, whilch failed to create prosperity during the Bush years. The House and Senate GOP leadership team all got Fs on CTJ's legislative report card for each of the six years of the Bush administration when Congress voted on a major tax cut.  

John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House, recently offered a plan that he openly describes as taking us back to the policies in place in 2008, the last year of the Bush administration (even though the plan would actually cut spending dramatically lower than that), and of course this includes extending the Bush tax cuts for even the richest taxpayers.

The likely chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is best known for his "Roadmap," which a CTJ analysis found would slash taxes for the richest 10 percent, raise taxes on the remaining 90 percent and would still manage to lose $2 trillion over ten years.

Then there's the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who will have a larger caucus, even if not a majority, and who is on record saying he believes tax cuts pay for themselves.

It would be easy to laugh at the bizarre proposals and convoluted justifications put forth by the anti-tax lawmakers in Congress, except that the stakes are far too high and much too serious. As Congress decides what to do about the long-term budget deficit, it must decide how much we will rely on revenue increases (and what type of revenue increases) and how much to rely on huge cuts in government programs that ordinary Americans rely on. The 112th Congress will almost certainly make the wrong choices if we don't stay involved.

The danger posed by the 112th Congress is not just to the legislation passed in the 111th. If Congress refuses to increase revenues, that dramatically increases the chances that any real measures to limit budget deficits will target Medicare, Social Security, transportation, education and other programs that working people depend on.

So the coming battle is not just about defending the progressive achievements of the last two years. It's about defending the progressive achievements of the last 75 years.

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