By Senator Chris Coons
The Senate this week faced a choice between two starkly different tax plans -- one, authored by Democrats, which would protect tax cuts for every American family, and another, authored by Republicans, which raises taxes on working-class families to fund special breaks for the very wealthiest Americans.
It really wasn't much of a choice.
I'm proud to say that 50 of my colleagues agreed, and we passed a fair and responsible tax plan that will allow us to responsibly reduce our deficit while also investing in the next generation of the American dream. Unsurprisingly, not a single Senate Republican voted for this plan, and it is sure to die a slow death in the Republican-controlled House. So committed to preventing the richest two percent of Americans from paying their fair share, Republicans are willing to hold middle class tax breaks hostage.
This political obstructionism is even more disappointing given the broad, bipartisan agreement that our national debt and annual deficits are dangerous and unsustainable.
We all know that too much debt leads to lower growth and starves critical investments of the resources they need to help our communities grow. We all know we have to take steps to bring our budget back to balance, but I believe the key is that we do so responsibly, fairly and in a way that reflects America's values.
It's time we recognize the sobering reality that if we're going to plug the hole in our national balance sheets while still continuing to invest in our future, we have to find a balance between spending cuts and revenue increases. We simply cannot achieve the level of savings we need through spending cuts alone. Revenue must also play a meaningful role.
A balanced approach is the only way to responsibly reduce our deficit while still maintaining America's future competitiveness. We have to invest in education, infrastructure, research and development if we hope to innovate and cure our way out of the great challenges of our time.
Balancing our budget by shredding the vital safety net for our most vulnerable citizens is not consistent with American values. Essential programs have already sustained deep and painful cuts. Programs important to my home state of Delaware, like heating assistance to low-income families, Community Development Block Grants and the HOME program, have already been cut by as much as 30 percent.
Programs like these can't afford additional cuts, so this week, Senate Democrats turned to the revenue side of the equation, voting to reduce our deficit by $1 trillion while still protecting critical tax credits for the middle class and working poor families that need them most -- simply by asking the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to pay their fair share.
In response, our Republican colleagues offered a plan that would raise taxes on 25 million working families still struggling to get through this difficult recession. At a time like this - when poverty in this country is at the highest rate since the 1960s, affecting one in six Americans -- we are called to do better.
My faith tradition, along with a broad range of other faith traditions, challenges us to show our values in our budget. Psalm 72 teaches that to defend the cause of the poor and give deliverance to the needy is one of our highest callings. That call is repeated throughout books of the Torah and the New Testament -- in many faith traditions across this country -- so to reject this deliverance to the needy, to reject the circle of protection, and instead say we will extend ad infinitum the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans defies our most basic values and our greatest tradition of creating and sustaining opportunity while protecting the most vulnerable amongst us.
This bill is not a substitute for the comprehensive tax reform our nation truly needs -- tax reform that simplifies the code and closes unsustainable and costly loopholes while lowering rates and broadening the base -- but in the current political environment, this bill is our best chance at retaining critical middle class tax credits and opportunities for the working poor, while still responsibly reducing our deficit.
As my friend, Senator Patty Murray, said shortly after Wednesday's vote, Speaker Boehner is all that stands between 100 million middle-class families and the tax cuts the Senate voted to preserve. She's right, and Speaker Boehner needs to get out of the way. The House ought to take up this bill and extend these tax cuts for America's middle class.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) is a member of the Senate Budget Committee.