In his recent speech in Osawatomie, Kan., President Obama spoke to the challenges of rebuilding the middle class, drawing a clear distinction between policies that foster shared prosperity and those that stack the deck against middle-class Americans. In a sharp rebuke of supply-side economic policies, the president stressed that the costly Bush-era tax cuts produced the “slowest job growth in half a century” while making it harder to pay for public investments as well as the economic security programs forming the backbone of the middle class. As our colleague Ross Eisenbrey wrote last week, the president flatly rejected the “failed ‘you’re on your own’ economic policies that got us into the worst recession in 75 years.” The deterioration of the middle class necessitates that economic policy focus on promoting economic opportunity and mobility rather than prioritizing those already at the top of the earnings distribution.
The first step to rebuilding the middle class is restoring full employment. Beyond the scarring effects wrought on the families of 24 million un- and underemployed workers, massive and persistent slack in the labor market will preclude employed workers from negotiating real wage increases (needed to reverse the decade-long trend of falling real median household income). Yet fiscal policy is poised to drag heavily on economic growth and employment entering 2012; Congress should be expanding efforts to accelerate growth and hiring, but a litany of meaningful job creation measures have instead been filibustered in the Senate. As Congress bickers over continuing the payroll tax holiday and Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program (set to expire at the end of the month), a new bill has been put forth that would meaningfully address the jobs crisis and begin restoring economic security for the middle class.
The bill that does this, the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act (H.R. 3638), was rolled out by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) earlier today. Our analysis of the bill’s job creation measures shows that it would meaningfully boost near-term employment – to the tune of almost 2.3 million jobs in fiscal 2012 and 3.1 million jobs in fiscal 2013 – all while improving the long-term fiscal outlook.
The Act for the 99% would continue the EUC program and replace the payroll tax holiday with the more targeted Making Work Pay tax credit. But the act spans far beyond the scope of job creation measure currently being considered. The bill would also fund direct job creation programs, increase federal surface transportation investments, reinstate higher federal matching rates for Medicaid, and defuse the automatic spending cuts scheduled under the Budget Control Act (which, if triggered, will greatly amplify the fiscal headwinds impeding recovery).
The job creation elements of the bill would be more than financed by accompanying deficit-reduction proposals, which include enacting a millionaire surcharge, reducing spending by the Department of Defense, closing oil and gas loopholes, and taxing financial speculation. As President Obama said in his recent speech, “This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making the choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get into the middle class, and the economy as a whole.”
By focusing on boosting employment and economic growth—and by financing these measures with offsets that will have relatively little adverse impact on either the economic recovery or the economic security of the middle class—the Congressional Progressive Caucus has offered a legislative blueprint to meet President Obama’s vision for rebuilding the middle class.