By Senator Mark Udall
Last September, Congress was unable to agree on a deficit-reduction plan when faced with a first-ever U.S. default on our debt, so it passed legislation empowering a "super committee" of legislators to craft a compromise. Blunt automatic spending cuts would be triggered to indiscriminately cut defense and non-defense programs if the super committee could not deliver - in order to encourage a compromise. But partisanship unraveled the work of the super committee, and now our nation is barreling toward the blunt spending cuts that threaten our economic recovery and our national security.
This threat can be avoided, but only if Congress finally learns its lesson: We must focus on working across the aisle to find common-sense solutions instead of scoring partisan political points.
We are nearly out of time to replace these automatic cuts with a balanced, bipartisan deficit-reduction plan; unfortunately, some of my colleagues have been using this latest impasse to further election year partisanship rather than an opportunity to work together to get our growing deficit under control. Some blame the president for what is Congress' failure. Others seem intent only to talk about the damage these automatic cuts will inflict - instead of focusing on solutions.
Today, my good friends Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., are coming to Colorado Springs to discuss this very issue.
I share my colleagues' frustration with congressional gridlock and their concern for how sequestration will affect our national security, and I hope they will explore solutions to the problem - because the last thing we need is more blame and election year politics.
By and large, Colorado's congressional leaders agree. This summer, I led a bipartisan letter signed by seven members of our congressional delegation, in which Republicans and Democrats agreed that we need "a balanced deficit-reduction plan," meaning targeted defense and non-defense reductions, strengthened entitlements and increased revenue from tax reform.
That sort of grand bargain won't be easy, but our country needs it. Commenting on America's inherent and long-held economic strengths, one observer recently predicted that "America is just one budget deal away" from a global resurgence. I absolutely agree. But in order to achieve that resurgence, Congress must stop playing partisan games and start doing what's best for the country. We all know that these budget cuts will be deeply harmful to our national security, schools, farms, roads, businesses - and, some believe that sequestration might threaten our economic recovery. But Congress has been standing on the deck and complaining about the approaching iceberg for far too long. Now we're running out of time to turn the ship and avoid the damage.
The good news is that we do not have to go back to the drawing board to chart a new bipartisan compromise. We already have a starting point: the president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - better known as the "Simpson-Bowles Commission" - laid out a clear, bipartisan plan to put our federal budget and the economy on track to responsible budgeting and long-term fiscal health.
A balanced and bipartisan approach in the spirit of the Simpson-Bowles plan would strategically reduce the deficit by more than enough to stave off the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to our defense budget and other federal programs. The Simpson-Bowles plan also maintains crucial investments in the short and medium terms that will help fuel our economic recovery and job creation.
There should be no higher priority for this Congress than crafting a balanced, comprehensive and bipartisan deficit-reduction plan along the lines of Simpson-Bowles. To do anything short of a longterm grand bargain is unacceptable and only sets us back into the old ruts of impasse that created the problem in the first place. Coloradans deserve better.
To be sure, we will have our disagreements along the way. Both sides will have to make hard choices about seemingly sacred programs or uncompromising pledges. But true sacrifice and compromise are the only ways we, the Congress, and we, the people, can confront our budget challenges and turn this heavy yoke into an opportunity.
Udall, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the senior senator for Colorado.