Speaking to a near empty room, members of the Congressional Progressive Congress unveiled the broad strokes of its vision for America's budget: protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, raising taxes on the wealthiest, creating middle class jobs and reducing defense spending.
"We're reframing the debate," said Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., emphasizing that the House should have a wider range of choices than Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., budget and the Simpson-Bowles economic suggestions.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., called the debate between the Ryan budget and Simpson-Bowles suggestion a "false choice." He praised the modest defense cuts proffered by Simpson-Bowles, but objected to the plan's treatment of middle-class entitlement programs, worrying about an increase in cost-sharing for medicare recipients.
"This nation is built on the middle class," said Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. "If we don't have them active, they can't buy, if they can't buy, people can't sell to them. If people can't sell to them they can't hire and that's what employment is all about."
Keeping the middle class active means protecting social welfare programs, said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
"No one makes it alone," Woolsey said. "I didn't want to take public assistance, but I did it because I had to. My husband was mentally ill, wouldn't get help, spent all our money and walked out on us."
Over four decades later, "The nation's investment in my family has paid for itself many times over, I can assure you."
Just the day before, a coalition of six liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, launched their new economic plan to counter Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" plan. Those groups will spend the recess pushing the "Prosperity Economics" message, which focuses on major public investment, education and securing collective bargaining as the way to boost job growth.