Before the Senate left Washington in October, there seemed to be a wait-and-see approach to taking meaningful steps to address the looming fiscal cliff until after the elections. Now, the election has been decided andwe face a deadline that will arrive in a matter of weeks. On Wednesday, I was interviewed on Bloomberg TV and I spoke on the floor of the Senate about this issue. I have an obligation as a member of the Senate to come to the floor and talk about solutions and resolutions, not problems and what we can't do. We are in a very dangerous position. I've been in this body one other time when we faced a fiscal cliff in September 2008, and I will never forget it. Here we are almost five years later, still recovering from the drop in the markets because Congress failed to act quickly at that time. If we don't address the fiscal cliff and take the first step in this lame-duck session to move forward in terms of sanity on taxation, on spending and on entitlements, then we're going to put ourselves in the same position again.
Sitting down at the table to find common ground is the first step. In the last two weeks, I've heard from both parties, as well as groups that have looked at this issue, including the Simpson-Bowles Commission to the Gang of Six. We all are on the same page in terms of knowing that we must address this as a three-part problem, though spending, revenue and entitlements.
In terms of spending, we can cut discretionary spending, but we must do more than that. Even if we canceled the government for a year, you would balance the budget, but you would not save money. It would be helpful to debate appropriations bills on the floor and hold federal agencies accountable for their spending. That's why the Biennial Budgeting Appropriations Act that Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and I have introduced should be a part of the final equation.
I don't consider programs such as Medicare and Social Security to be "entitlements," because you've paid into them your whole working life. Social Security and Medicare eligibility should be reformed. In 1983, President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill raised the eligibility for Social Security, and as a result, I had to wait until the age of 66 to receive benefits. We need to save this program for our children and grandchildren and one way to do it is to look at eligibility, just as we did in 1983. Medicare is a tougher issue, but perhaps one solution could be to do a cost-benefit analysis of the safety net. As for the tax code, I'll be the first to admit that it would be hard to come up with a comprehensive reform in seven weeks to fix the tax code. However, it would not be hard to come up with an agreement this month to do it early next year. Maybe the answer is means-tested deductions, which raises revenue without raising rates.
But jumping off the fiscal cliff in January is not an option. We need a game plan over the next decade that causes us to begin to reduce the deficits and eliminate them so that we reduce debt. When we do, we'll return to the greatness America has always known.
In his press conference this week, the president has said that all options were open on the table; John Boehner said the same thing in terms or revenues a week ago. Let's sit down at that table, let's start talking about those solutions, let's start giving ourselves meaningful goals and do the people's business.