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Sen. Jay Rockefeller: Solution to fiscal crisis is compromise

December 02, 2012|By SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER

There is no question that our country is at the crossroads of some profoundly important budget decisions — with far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on our economy, our families and our fiscal standing as a nation.

The made-up term “fiscal cliff” paints a pretty menacing picture and, in my view, is unnecessarily dramatic. 

The issues we’re facing are certainly very serious and they must be addressed — which is why I’m working at it full time — but our country will not come to a grinding halt on Jan. 1 if there isn’t a final agreement by then. And it’s important that the solution we put in place is balanced and fair to all Americans.

The fundamental challenge before Congress is to keep our economy growing and shore up the building blocks of a strong middle class even as we aggressively reduce our deficit. Dec. 31 is an important date because the recent tax cuts are set to expire and a mountain of automatic spending cuts are about to go into effect — on top of the $1 trillion in spending cuts Congress enacted last year.

These spending cuts and taxes, along with other changes set in law — like lower payment rates for Medicare doctors and reduced unemployment insurance — are all happening around the same time, and taken together they’ve been labeled a “fiscal cliff.”

We got into this situation because of the deep disagreement about whether it makes good sense to reduce our deficit by asking the very wealthy to pay a little more or by putting the full burden onto middle class and struggling families and small businesses.

I have long championed the idea that those at the very top should be asked to do at least their fair share. And I’ve been encouraged in recent days to hear people on both sides of the aisle agree that a real compromise is possible, and that getting there will require everyone to give a little. That’s a crucial first step.

But outside Washington, here in West Virginia, I’m hearing from people who want to know what all of this means for our country and for them — for seniors, working families, their friends and neighbors. They want and deserve assurances that we won’t let supports for working families — like the tax credits for children and for college tuition and essential funding for education, job creation and health care — bear the brunt of deficit reduction.

I understand West Virginians’ real concerns and sense of fundamental fairness. I know we can avoid the harmful impact that making all of these changes at once would have and still put ourselves on a path to truly rein in our deficit.

The good news is that many others agree.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress and at the White House are working right now on an agreement that can prevent a fiscal crisis and put our economy on a sustainable path. I’ve reached out to my colleagues and urged all of us to commit to a set of core principles as we work to strike a deal: 

• First, we must increase revenues without hurting the middle class — by ending the tax cuts for the very wealthy and closing loopholes that benefit only the big corporations and wealthiest Americans. 

• Second, we must be squarely focused on jobs — getting people back to work through investment in education and critical infrastructure, and continuing support for unemployment insurance.

• Third, we must keep our promise to the American people by protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — so many West Virginians count on these programs, and any harmful cuts would be unwise and unfair at a time like this.

In the coming weeks, I believe we will resolve big questions about fiscal policies that have serious implications here in West Virginia and nationally.

It’s about how we spend and generate the revenues needed to be a strong nation. It’s about how we rebuild a prosperous middle class and whether we keep the door of opportunity open for those who are struggling. And it’s about how we responsibly invest in our people, their jobs and our global competitiveness.

It’s not just a chance to avoid a “fiscal cliff.” It’s a defining moment for our state and our nation.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was elected to the United States Senate in 1984, and re-elected in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008.

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