There are no Congress members on Capitol Hill this month. I have the opportunity to spend significant time working closely with people of the Eighth Congressional District on the many issues they, their families and their communities are facing. But even when in Washington, it was the working families of Northern New Jersey who were in the front of my mind during the debt ceiling impasse that gripped Congress for so long; and it was for them that I supported the eventual deal that broke the gridlock.
I voted for that not-so-great compromise for one simple reason: failure to pay our nation's bills was not an option. The United States has never defaulted on its debt. The global economic forecast, if the nation did default, was dire. Interest rates on credit cards, car loans and mortgages would have skyrocketed. Credit markets would have been frozen for small businesses. The people who would be hurt the most would have been the middle class.
Voting in support of the bill helped avert a great fiscal calamity. I voted for a clean extension of the debt ceiling earlier this year, without the convoluted strings attached. But what made voting in support of this month's deal a little bitter was understanding how we got into this phony crisis in the first place.
We must recall that the United States came into the 21st Century in strong fiscal condition. National budgets were balanced from 1998 to 2001 and the deficit was projected to be eliminated by 2013.
That all changed with the passage of the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Prescription Drug deal and repeal of PAYGO -- the Congressional requirement that legislation calling for federal spending must explicitly state how that spending would be funded.
We now look forward to a debt-ridden future in which the Bush Tax Cuts alone will comprise almost 40 percent of the national debt by 2019.
We cannot hope to change the nation's future without addressing the current Congress' deficits of action and political courage to help provide what most Americans need -- particularly jobs -- instead of what a few Americans want.
We have learned powerful lessons from the recent debt ceiling episode. Dogmatic partisanship not only polarizes a nation, it paralyzes it. And good ideas that could benefit the vast majority of Americans are rendered to nothing when they are politicized, viewed as only a talking point for political parties.
The remedy to government paralysis is compromise. I learned that lesson well when I served in the Mayor's office in Paterson and in New Jersey General Assembly. It was compromise that moved me to vote in favor of the legislation that raised the debt ceiling.
Now, we will see if Congress can compromise enough to begin working for jobs creation in America. Compromise need not mean selling out on your values.
During House Budget Committee hearings, we have been advised by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and host of others that deficit and debt reduction must be balanced with a focus on economic growth and fostering a strong jobs market. Slash-and-burn budget cuts do not help create jobs and could actually risk losing additional jobs.
The bipartisan Deficit Reduction Commission warned earlier this year that indiscriminate budget cuts would mean more layoffs and weaken our fragile economy.
House Republicans have not advanced a single piece of legislation aimed at creating jobs for the past eight months. Many fail to recognize that smart investing in job creation is the best method to debt reduction. Instead of debating where to invest, they take an arbitrary ax to the budget.
I am not very confident that the "Super Committee" will be able to break through paralyzing ideology. Hopefully, a balanced approach will be put forward that finds savings by eliminating fraud and abuse, pairs back inefficient and redundant spending, and recognizes that the nation's wealthiest cannot continue to get tax breaks on the backs of the millions of working Americans.
To achieve this, Congress members must be as galvanized in the will to do what is best for the American people as President Kennedy was on the day of his inauguration when he said, "I do not shrink from this responsibility, I welcome it."
The choice is simple: we will move forward or we won't move at all.
Rep. Pascrell serves on the House Ways and Means and House Budget committees.