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GOP budget will break the middle class

By Tom Perriello, Special to CNN
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
House Republicans introduced a new budget plan this week called
House Republicans introduced a new budget plan this week called "The Path to Prosperity."
  • Tom Perriello: House GOP's new budget plan dumps more of tax burden on the middle class
  • He says proposal would be a dead end for America's middle class and manufacturing
  • Perriello says plan's theory is essentially that the richest create jobs and add to economy
  • Perriello: GOP budget is not a cruel joke but logical result of conservative economic theory

Editor's note: Tom Perriello is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive organization based in Washington. He is a former Democratic U.S. representative from Virginia.

(CNN) -- This week, Republicans announced their new budget with a highly produced video full of great rhetoric and patriotic music, but one major piece of Americana is missing -- a single mention of the middle class.

The narrator, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, had promised to offer a "path to prosperity" but instead introduces economic policies that represent a dead end for America's middle class and American manufacturing. Rarely has a budget been so brazen about protecting the richest and most powerful at the expense of the rest.

Ryan, considered by many to be an ideological leader of conservative thought, correctly asserts that this is a moment for America to choose between different futures. He then outlines the conservative vision that Americans have rejected over and over again -- increasing U.S. debt through special deals to protect the most powerful corporations and dumping that burden onto the already struggling middle class.

Tom Perriello
Tom Perriello

Though Ryan's plan has deliberately avoided explaining how the tax numbers add up, in order to pay for the massive tax cuts at the top, everyone else would have to pay more. It's likely that a middle-class family with two kids making about $70,000 a year would pay about $1,150 more in income tax, according to calculations made by the Center for American Progress. That's an 80% increase over what they pay now, while millionaires will pay less. That same family currently receives about $5,500 worth of federal support from K-12 education, transportation, health and science research, consumer safety, natural resource protections and federal law enforcement. The GOP budget would cut these "nondefense discretionary spending" by about 25%, taking away a typical family's services and protections by about $1,400 per year. To borrow a phrase from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, these budget priorities are truly "of the 1%, by the 1% and for the 1%."

Opinion: GOP budget will tackle economic challenges

House Republicans further threaten the middle class by rewarding companies for sending American jobs overseas. They want to revive the outsourcing loopholes that Democrats, including myself, have fought hard to close. These loopholes would exempt overseas profits from taxes, creating a greater incentive to relocate investments to other countries and leaving more of the tax burden to our middle class.

But this goes beyond economics to our values. Why else would Father Thomas Kelly, a constituent of Ryan's and a Catholic priest, be moved to note his disappointment with the "cruel budget plan" that doesn't match the Catholic teaching of "justice for the poor and economic fairness"?

The Republicans' budget video shows a suburban family arriving home in a Volkswagen, rather than a Chrysler or a Buick. One can logically conclude that this was a self-conscious decision not to use a product of the American auto industry that their party and likely nominee, Mitt Romney, said should be allowed to die.

The Republicans present a hypothetical choice going forward, but this reminds Americans that there were real choices already made over the last few years -- whether to let America crash into a Depression, permit our auto industry to fail or let Medicare for senior citizens become insolvent by 2017. At each of these points, as now, conservatives have put the political gain of making Barack Obama a one-term president by opposing his efforts to save the economy and fix Medicare, ahead of making tough decisions to protect the middle class and senior citizens.

The Republican budget is not a cruel joke. It is the very real and logical result of the economic theory that conservatives from Ryan to Romney embrace -- that it is the richest Americans who create jobs and add to the economy, not the middle class.

This is not a "bold and right" call for shared sacrifice as Romney suggested of last year's similar budget. It is simply forcing the middle class and senior citizens to take a hit to protect corporate subsidies and tax breaks for the rich and powerful. Many, including myself, had hoped for big ideas, but instead we got a new turn on an old congressional one -- a bridge to nowhere for 99% of Americans.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tom Perriello.

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