With each day that passes, the country is getting closer to going over the "Fiscal Cliff". This involves the expiration of tax cuts, sequestration and so much more. As I am sure you can imagine, I am very concerned about the impact that all of this could have on our economy and on the finances of my constituents. I am also concerned about some of the measures being proposed to address the Fiscal Cliff and I want to share them with you. As with health care reform, I think it is important that you are well aware of the questions I have as Congress and the President work to avert the Fiscal Cliff.
In 2010, as Congress debated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I shared some specific concerns with you about some of its provisions. I supported the goal, affordable health care for all, but Massachusetts would have suffered, gravely and disproportionally, from some proposals. You can review those concerns via the four links below (all posted on my website).
If most of those had been included in the final health care reform bill, it would have been tough to vote yes. They would have cost Massachusetts BILLIONS of dollars each year in order to expand health care coverage to other states. Massachusetts could have lost tens of thousands of jobs in health care (from doctors, to researchers, nurses, and custodians), paying higher taxes and fees and getting virtually no direct benefit (remember, Massachusetts already had near-universal coverage). Fortunately, almost all of those provisions were deleted from the final bill and I happily voted yes.
Today, we are facing the so-called Fiscal Cliff. I want to support a compromise. I certainly intend to give President Obama the room he needs to negotiate that compromise, and the benefit of any doubt. As always, however, my primary consideration will be what I believe is in the best interests of my constituents. I will have to balance my concern for the nation with my responsibilities to my constituents here in Massachusetts. I also have to balance my philosophical commitments with my practical judgment of what can be realistically achieved.
I believe we should pay our bills. If you want something, you should pay for it. This applies to birthday gifts, home improvement projects, and government programs.
I believe in progressive taxation. I am not opposed to material success or wealth. However, I do believe that those of us who have been more fortunate should contribute a little more for the betterment of the greater society.
I believe in compromise. Of course, there is a fine line between compromise and capitulation -- and that is a matter of judgment.
I believe that the people of Massachusetts are fair-minded and public spirited, and willing to help their fellow citizens. However, I also believe that we expect those we compromise with to give a little in return.
As I consider the various pieces of any broader compromise, I want to share with you some of my concerns. Some relate to basic philosophical beliefs and others relate to the possibility of an unfair and disproportionate impact on Massachusetts.
I know I won't get the luxury of voting on a bill that meets all my goals or against one that is void of all my principles -- either way that would be an easy vote. I accept the reality that any compromise will contain some provisions I like and some I don't. My decision will rest on the balance between the two extremes. As this debate continues, here are my thoughts on some of what is being discussed:
I believe the problems we face are serious and must be addressed reasonably soon. We should find a way to pay our bills and not burden our grandchildren because we could not make difficult decisions.
I don't see any reason to include Social Security in these discussions. Social Security does have some long term funding problems, but they are not as severe as others and there is no need to address them as part of this current debate.
I believe we can address most of our Medicare and Medicaid concerns without cutting benefits to current or future beneficiaries.
The Ryan Budget, embraced by most Republicans, would violate this principle by essentially abolishing Medicare as we know it.
The proposal recently offered by Speaker Boehner includes $600 billion in cuts to these programs -- and offers no details or useful commentary. Therefore, I must assume it will be in line with the Ryan Budget proposals.
The President's recent proposal includes $400 billion in cuts to these programs and claims they won't violate the principle against cutting benefits. I believe him, but his proposal also lacks detail. Since I am familiar with the President's 2012 earlier budget proposals that specified $360 billion in similar cuts, it seems reasonable to look there for insight. We have provided a link to that proposal at the end of this e-update.
I have asked responsible experts to review the specific impact those cuts would have on Massachusetts and how they might compare with cuts suffered by other states.
I fear that the specific cuts outlined would cause serious damage to our national and state health care system and require significant job reductions in Massachusetts. I fear that such cuts would impose indirect, yet serious cuts to beneficiaries.
I fear the specific cuts might slow scientific research that is important both to the regional economy and the future of America.
When I receive more detailed analysis on any proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid, I will share it with you.
I believe tax policy should take into account regional differences whenever possible. It costs more to live in Massachusetts than it does in Nebraska. Housing, education, and health care all cost more. In Massachusetts, someone making $50,000 can still struggle to make ends meet. That same income in Nebraska provides a much more comfortable life due to the lower cost of living. In Massachusetts, it is hard to find a decent starter home for $150,000. In Nebraska, that money would go much further.
If mortgage deductions are capped at any level, regional costs differentials should be included. A $400,000 home in Nebraska is a mansion; in Greater Boston, it is solidly middle-class.
Many New Englanders own vacation homes and they are important to the economies of Cape Cod, the Berkshires, and northern New England. We must be mindful of proposals related to the tax treatment of vacation property and ensure that they do not have serious impacts on these important regional economies.
I believe that charities provide great benefits to our society. They fill the gaps left by government; they brighten people's lives and they lift our spirits. Churches, museums, food pantries, colleges, environmental groups, and fraternal organizations are valuable assets to our society.
If the charitable deduction is eliminated or capped, then other ways must be found to support these institutions.
If other ways are not found, the lost jobs and societal impact should be measured and recognized by all.
As I write this, Congress does not have legislation before it to address the Fiscal Cliff. I don't know when it may be available, what it will include, or how much time there will be to review it before we have to vote. That is why I wanted to share my thoughts now - I want you to be familiar with my thinking on all of this. I would also like your feedback.. I thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.