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While Obama Touts Compromise with GOP, Progressive Lawmakers Unveil “People’s Budget”

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In a televised address yesterday, President Obama set a goal of cutting the U.S. budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. He countered Republican budget plans with what he said was a more balanced approach that relies in part on tax increases for the wealthy as well as on spending cuts. The Congressional Progressive Caucus meanwhile has unveiled an alternative plan called the “People’s Budget.” We speak to Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In a televised address yesterday, President Obama set a goal of cutting the U.S. budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. He countered Republican budget plans with what he said was a more balanced approach that relies in part on tax increases for the wealthy as well as on spending cuts.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week. That step alone will save us about $750 billion over 12 years.

The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget. Now, as Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world. But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt.

The third step in our approach is to further reduce healthcare spending in our budget. Now, here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer. Their plan essentially lowers the government’s healthcare bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s healthcare bills by reducing the cost of healthcare itself.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama’s proposal came a week after House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan offered a blueprint for $4.4 trillion in deficit cuts. Obama drew a sharp distinction from the Republic budget proposal, saying his plan makes important cuts while insisting on increasing taxes on the rich and without compromising on Medicare. Obama said the Republican proposal offered a fundamentally different vision of what America has always represented.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has unveiled an alternative plan called the “People’s Budget.” With more than 80 members, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is the largest caucus within the U.S. House of Representatives. We’re now joined by the chair, the co-chair, of that caucus, Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona.

Welcome to Democracy Now! We hear a great deal, Congressmember Grijalva, about the Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget proposals. All of the networks show comparisons of the Deficit Commission, what the compromise, so-called compromise, is between the Democrats and the Republicans, and then Paul Ryan’s. But we do not hear about the People’s Budget, and you’re the largest caucus in the entire House of Representatives. How is that? And what is your assessment of the deal that Obama has reached with the Republicans?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, the assessment on the lack of attention, Amy, quite frankly, is that we think we have a very, very good product that can stand scrutiny, that deals with the realities of the economies that we’re in right now and into the future, and the fact that we don’t get the promotional attention is disturbing. We want, with our budget, to provide a contrast and a choice between what Ryan’s draconian budget is, basically destroying societal support for each other, and the President’s, which kind of takes a half step toward dealing with some of the issues that we feel need to be preserved and protected: Social Security, Medicare, investments in education, job creation. Our budget is solid. We have third-party validation from Professor Sachs to many other economists, Professor Irons, as well. So we feel very strongly about our budget, and we want it to be on the table.

We deal with the deficit reduction, and we do it within a 10-year period. We deal with job creation in a substantial way, to put people back to work in this country. We protect the middle class and the poor by protecting their programs and increasing job training and early childhood education. We cut military spending in a significant way. The key to that, getting us out of Afghanistan and out of Iraq. And we take care — we deal with healthcare by reintroducing the public option, which could save up to $68 billion a year from providing a competitive choice for the American people.

We didn’t do this on a lark. We have tracked every public opinion poll. And the American people want gas and oil subsidies to be cut. They want the rich and the corporations to pay taxes. They want military spending cut. And so, as we listen to the American people, our budget reflects that listening and really deserves a voice and deserves some attention. We are going to do our best between now and voting time to make sure we get our message out that there is a choice out there, that we’ve listened to the American people, and we don’t have to half-step a budget solution. We can take a bold step that the American people want.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congressman, you mentioned reintroducing the public option in terms of healthcare as being one of the ways that you would reduce the budget deficit. But could you point out maybe some of the key — what you consider to be the key points that differentiate your budget from both those of the Republicans, of Ryan, as well as of the President?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I think the key point is that American people said preserve Social Security, invest in education, preserve Medicare and Medicaid, invest in job training, and we reflect that in our budget. Ryan’s budget does not reflect that. And in fact, even some of the administration’s initiatives go counter to that feeling among the American people.

What we do, very specifically, we put things on the table that are not part of the other budgets. We say that $30-$40 billion a year in subsidies to Big Oil and Big Gas need to be on the table, and cuts need to occur. We put on there the tax breaks that corporations have that take their jobs overseas; we put that on the table. We put military spending and the wars on the table for reductions. The difference is that fundamental, that we are putting items that are taxpayer-funded on the table that lobbyists and corporations do not allow to go on the table. And the public option is out there to control cost, to give a competitive arena so that the insurance companies in this country don’t set the bar as to what we should pay and what we shouldn’t pay, that they find themselves in a competitive situation, and that’s what will create the savings.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grijalva is speaking to us from the Russell Office Building rotunda in Washington, D.C. But, Congressmember Grijalva, isn’t the People’s Budget getting the kind of attention that you see from, for example, the Budget Chair, the Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan? I mean, everything on all the networks divides down to the Ryan budget, the compromise bill, the Deficit Commission, what they suggested. Still, you’re the largest caucus. Have you held news conferences? Why isn’t this put out there as a counter? In the end, what President Obama does is he responds to the pressure. And that pressure, as everyone understands it, is coming from the right, not coming from progressives, yet you have this entire budget you’ve proposed.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I agree. We’ve done the outreach. I think we have a great grassroots campaign building momentum to contact our colleagues in Congress to not only look at the People’s Budget, but support the People’s Budget. We are doing press conferences. And all of us, individual members of the caucus, will be out today and tomorrow making sure that word gets out. But one of the things that we are relying on very heavily, Amy, is a grassroots, constituency-based movement that begins to say there is another choice. You’re barely beginning to hear about our budget in the regular news, network news, and talk shows. And when they do comparison, as they did this morning, they come to the conclusion that it is a solid budget and that it deals with doing everything people want done — reducing the deficit — but at the same time protecting important programs. We’re going to continue to work on that, Amy. Like I said earlier, it’s frustrating, but we have a really good alternative. We have given the American people a choice. And as more and more people learn about it, more and more public opinion will begin to sway our way.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman, I’d like to ask you another question not related to the budget. This month is the fifth anniversary of the series of immigrant rights protests that broke out across the United States in 2006, where as many as five million people, between March and May of 2006, poured out into the streets to demand a change in the nation’s immigration policy. Yet here we are five years later, and virtually nothing has happened. Nothing has happened in Congress. Across the country, various states like yours, Arizona, have adopted even more repressive immigration legislation, and the Obama administration has escalated the number of people being deported from the United States. I’m sensing, from talking to young people, especially those who backed the DREAM Act unsuccessfully, that there’s a growing frustration among millions of Latinos and other immigrants in this country that the political leadership in Washington is turning its back on this major problem. I’m wondering your thoughts five years after the great immigrant protests of 2006?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I share — I share the disappointment, and I share the fact that not only is the constituency large and should be responded to — that’s the political smart thing to do — but it’s a fundamental, important economic and human issue that we’re facing in this country, an issue that, if not dealt with, continues to divide and segregate this country of ours. And that social fabric question scares the heck out of me, because I think that the profound damage done there is going to take generations to correct. We’re frustrated.

Our initiative now, knowing full well that we will not get anything out of the Republican Congress at the House of Representatives, and the Senate is too timid to deal with this issue, and the White House would prefer to just have it go away until after election time, that we are insisting that there be — that the President use his extensive discretion and authority to deal with family unification issues, to deal with issues of the DREAM Act in terms of providing people with a safe harbor and a hardship — hardship protection. Those are administrative steps we can take in lieu of getting legislation done. The frustration is going to be translated into lack of participation in elections, or it’s going to be translated into more and more Latinos feeling as though their civil rights issue of this generation is not front and center in the political dialogue. Yes, it is going to be tough, but the fact that the effort is not being made, I think, adds to the frustration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, isn’t it time, perhaps, for a lot of these young people to do what was done in the '60s with the Freedom Riders? And basically your state is really the new Alabama, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the new Bull Connor. Isn't it perhaps time to shut down Phoenix, to declare a Dream Summer in 2012 in Arizona and have tens of thousands of young Latinos converge on Arizona in the midst of a presidential election year and force the entire country to deal with this issue?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I think that the discussion you just brought up is ongoing. I think there has been activism and organizations and constituency movements across this country on this issue. It’s there. People don’t give it the attention it does, but it continues to build up. And your point is something that is not only part of the discussion, it’s real action that’s taking place, not only in Arizona, but across the country — not just in protest, but to build toward that 2012 election cycle so that, front and center, this issue will have to be dealt with.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressmember Grijalva, the tremendous frustration with President Obama for approving the tax cuts, agreeing — although yesterday, you know, raising Warren Buffett, saying there’s got to be tax cuts for the rich, it’s not actually what he has approved, and he’s even talked about his historic compromises. What about this enormous frustration? Even MoveOn is circulating letters attacking President Obama.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah. Amy, that’s why we have the People’s Budget. We feel we had to contrast. We didn’t want to have to be stuck between two poles, where the negotiations are around the fringes, and the core problem that has created this deficit — the tax cuts, the giveaways, the subsidies — continue to be center to the economic policy of this country. That’s why we introduced the People’s Budget. We want to give it a choice, whether it passes or not, the point being that we wanted to tell the American people there’s a different strategy, a more — a realistic strategy, and here’s your choice. That’s why we have it. It’s a reflection of that frustration, but it’s also a reflection that we cannot just be saying no to these. We have got to present to the American people an alternative, and we’ve done that.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Congressmember Raúl Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus —


AMY GOODMAN: — talking to us from the Russell Office Building rotunda in Washington, D.C. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, a roundtable discussion about the state of America today. Stay with us.

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