A statement of American values

“Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value.”
― Joe Biden
Yesterday, President Obama sent his budget to Congress. There is a party in our country that likes to invoke the word "values" at election time. That party - the Republican party - has a funny formulation of their "values": they claim to value the family but vehemently oppose family planning; they claim to value children but show it by cutting funds from our public schools; they claim to value community and show that by reducing funding for police and firefighters; and they claim to value faith but deny the central tenet of every faith: helping the least among us.

Capital Hill Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce (my apologies for the redundancy) are in a tizzy over the it, but the President's budget is not just a statement of his values. It is a statement of American values.



The president's budget focuses on critical investments for our future while making tough cuts to return fiscal sanity after a decade of profligate GOP spending on wars, pharmaceutical company giveaways and tax loopholes for the rich and multinational companies.

Here's the breakdown.

Investing in jobs, infrastructure and the American people.

$350 billion in short-term measures aimed at job growth. This includes an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits throughout 2012 to keep consumer spending strong as the economy recovers. Together, these two items account for $150 billion. This short term jolt to the economy also includes a $50 billion, immediate, short-term investment roads and bridges, $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 schools (by the way that's less than a million dollars per school - to create jobs in construction and build the next generation centers of public education excellence... looks like a pretty damn good deal to me), and allowing small businesses to write off new equipment purchases this year.

Education: $800 million for the president's groundbreaking race to the top, $300 million to protect the maximum Pell Grant awards and continue the reform on student loans to ensure interests don't doubt this summer, as well as to double the number of work study availabilities in 5 years, to make the American Opportunity Tax credit permanent. Support is provided for community colleges to partner with businesses to build the work force of today and tomorrow.

Transit, broadband and energy: It's the 21st century, and the president thinks that it's time American moved away from the fuel of the 19th. The budget includes $140 billion in investments in research and development, and a six-year, $476 billion surface transportation infrastructure that includes inner city passenger rail as well as high speed rail. The president wants Congress to create a National Infrastructure Bank that can fund both physical transit and the high-speed information superhighways that we need to stay competitive in this digital world.

Increasing revenue and a closing deficit.

Fair share for the wealthiest Americans: The president's budget would end the Bush era tax cuts for the richest people in America - those making $250,000 for a couple filing jointly (or $200,000 for an individual).  For these richest Americans, the budget would also end the giveaway in dividend income - taxing it at the same rate as regular income. Millionaires who make all their money from buying and selling paper can no longer avoid tax rates paid by working Americans; the president's budget asks Congress to institute the Buffett rule that no household with incomes exceeding $1 million a year should pay less than 30% in federal income tax. The top rate for Mitt Romney, i.e. money made from money (adorably called "capital gains") rather than from work would rise to 20% from the current 15%.

Fair share for Wall Street: The banks were given extraordinary taxpayer help during their hour of need, and now it's time they pay a financial responsibility to cover the cost of administering TARP and the president's mortgage refinancing program to the tune of $61 billion.

Deficit cutting: Few presidents have been as effective at eliminating wasteful government spending and focusing on the right priorities as President Obama. Along with the debt limit deal, which has already cut spending by $1 trillion, the president is proposing $2.50 of cuts for every dollar of revenue. The Republicans are irate that the President is counting savings from ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I suspect it's because they don't really want those overseas redistributions of wealth from the American taxpayer to the bloated defense contractors. The president also saves $360 billion by focusing Medicare on results rather than process, and $270 billion in other federal spending.

A statement of American values.

In the details, let's not lose sight of what a budget is really about. It's about the numbers, but as I stated at the beginning, it's about a statement of values. American values vs. the values of vulture capitalists and right wing oligarchs. Take Mitt Romney's tax plan as opposed to President Obama's budget, for example. Mitt Romney would raise taxes too, but on middle class families.
America at her core is an idea, a set of values: that everyone deserves a fair shot, that everyone plays by the same set of fair rules, and everyone pays their fair share. By its very character, American values are progressive values. For far too long, conservative radicals have attacked those quintessential American values while wrapping themselves into the flag. Barack Obama is focused on returning those values as the guiding light of the shining city on the hill that is the United States of America.