By Chip Cravaack, Guest Columnist
“The fiscal cliff” — it is a term that has been repeated so often many Americans cringe when they hear it. Although hearing about it is grating, it is critical that everyone comprehends what is at stake, how we got here, and what is preventing us from confronting this perfect fiscal storm.
Some brief history may provide insight. The “cliff” that we hear so much about did not suddenly appear. It has been years in the making. Getting the most attention is the expiration of tax cuts that were passed a decade ago during President George W. Bush’s first term. Those tax rate cuts, referred to as the “Bush Tax Cuts,” helped everyone.
Two years ago, almost to the day, President Obama agreed to extend the existing tax rates for two more years. The president, while signing the extension, called maintaining the existing tax rates “a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country.” He said the tax cuts “will grow our economy and will create jobs for the American people.” He said that it was not the time to be raising people’s taxes. Apparently he doesn’t believe that anymore.
Also two years ago, the President formed a debt commission, in order to at least begin addressing what is obvious to everyone, our country’s deteriorating financial condition. The “Bowles-Simpson Commission” worked diligently and compiled a detailed bipartisan report that contained over $4 trillion in proposed spending cuts and tax increases to attack our mounting debt, a balanced approach if you will.
What did the President and the Congress do with the Commission’s report? Nothing. It was completely ignored, and the debt has continued to grow. Our national debt now exceeds $16 trillion and we are on the fast track to $20 trillion and beyond.
Last year brought us another significant aspect of the pending “cliff.” It is the Budget Control Act of 2011. This “Act” amounted, again, to inaction. During the contentious debt ceiling debate in late July 2011, an agreement was reached whereby a “Select Committee” was formed to work out a compromise between the two bodies of Congress. In order to compel an agreement, the Congress decided to include provisions in the “Act” that were thought to be so onerous that both sides would fear the fallout if an agreement was not reached. Failure would result in automatic cuts amounting to more than $1 trillion with half coming from defense budgets and the other half coming from social programs over the next 10 years. What happened? The committee failed and here we are with no plan to bring the debt under control.
So what stands in the way of compromise? Strip away the finger pointing for a moment and some things have become apparent. The President refuses to lead in any serious way. He seems comfortable with his “lead from behind” style. Proposals he has made do not address our massive fiscal problems. On the contrary, what he has proposed and if adopted would make matters much worse.
What would make matters worse? One of the President’s proposals is that the federal government should not have a debt ceiling. He sent Tim Geithner, his Treasury Secretary, to Capitol Hill last week to advocate that there should be no limit to what the federal government can spend; it should be infinite, endless. Really? Infinite debt? Is there any thinking person who doesn’t see the fiscal irresponsibility in that? Yet, this is what the Administration offers as an idea to address our debt crisis. Common sense has gone out the window.
Some numbers the President has chosen to ignore include 99-0 and 414-0. Those were the results of votes taken in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives earlier this year when the Congress decisively rejected the president’s “blueprint” for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Notice the zeroes. No one bought it. It was a total, complete, bipartisan rejection of what the president proposed to do.
One has to marvel at the president’s relentless attempt to twist the argument in such a way that portrays Republicans as standing in the way of extending tax cuts for the middle class when it is the Republican position to extend existing tax rates for everyone. Republicans want to make the current tax rates permanent for all taxpayers. The last time I checked that would include the middle class.
Republicans have put revenue on the table to a level the president once sought. Now he says double it. We have shown a willingness to negotiate. It is the president who has announced positions that are non-negotiable. It is the president who continues to divide the country. He is showing a willingness to tank our fragile economy and send it back into recession. It is he who is holding the economy hostage.
Why is he willing to do this? He is convinced the American public will again buy his rhetoric that Republicans are to blame. He sees the numbers that re-elected him to a second term last month, and he believes he can continue to get away with his divisive class warfare rhetoric. Hopefully, he is wrong.
My message all along, and those of my Republican colleagues, has been clear. We have to stop spending money that we don’t have. We have stated repeatedly that we have to stop kicking the proverbial can down the road. Our pleas for fiscal sanity seem to fall on deaf ears or they just evaporate into the ether.
Half the country sees what’s happening and dreads the financial calamity that is inevitable if we stay on our current course. Yet, the other half of the country seems either oblivious to it, sees it but doesn’t fully comprehend it and therefore chooses to ignore it, or sees it and understands it but doesn’t care. I care.
I care very deeply about the country that we are leaving our children, a sentiment that I believe is shared by all. I don’t want to see us or them buried under a growing mountain of debt. The serious debate and the decisions that the president and the Congress have been putting off are needed more today than ever, and it is a mistake if we continue to resort to the practice of ignoring the problem.
I urge the president to join us, work with us, and not bring the country to financial ruin, something which at the moment he seems intent on doing.
Rep. Cravaack serves in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.