By Senator Mitch McConnell
The debate around Washington right now is whether the so-called fiscal cliff agreement I helped negotiate last week was a perfect solution. Far from it. If I had had my way, taxes wouldn't be going up on anyone, particularly in a slow economy. But the unavoidable fact was, if we had sat back and done nothing taxes would have gone up dramatically on every single Kentuckian, and I simply couldn't allow that to happen.
As the clock ran out on 2012, I watched with growing concern as President Obama delayed and delayed any action on the fast-approaching tax hikes. The White House's reasoning was obvious: as long as the president did nothing, all the Bush tax cuts would automatically expire, across-the-board defense cuts would kick in, and President Obama would have trillions of dollars to spend. It was a liberal's dream.
Some counseled that we should simply let the president have his way. He's the one who has recklessly added trillions to the debt and done nothing to reform out-of-control entitlement programs that, if left unreformed, will drive the country into fiscal ruin. A majority of voters just rewarded that agenda by re-electing him to a second term. Why not just let them see what the effect of those policies really is?
Although it would've been the easiest decision politically, I believe that would be completely at odds with my duty to the people of Kentucky. I knew that out of 4.4 million people who call Kentucky home, there were only about 5,800 tax filings with an income above $500,000. I hated the fact that taxes would rise no matter what I did but I thought that if I could convince this White House to abandon some of its planned tax hikes and lock in the current middle class rates permanently, I could ensure that 99.7 percent of Kentuckians were spared an income tax increase.
It wasn't pretty, but it worked. By the time the deal was sealed and the Senate convened to vote, the massive tax increase I raced to avoid had already hit the books. Thankfully, the Senate approved the agreement 89-8, and we acted to repeal the new taxes before they hit Kentucky paychecks.
If I had thrown up my hands and blamed the entire mess on a liberal president who cannot be reasoned with, the average family of four in Kentucky would be paying $2,000 more next year in taxes. Some would have praised my unwillingness to bend but it would have done nothing to stop families from having less in their pocket as a result. For me, that's an easy choice.
Was it a great deal? No. As I said, taxes shouldn't be going up on anyone, and if I had had my way they wouldn't. Just as importantly, the transcendent issue of our time, the spiraling national debt, remains completely unaddressed. But was it worth it? For Kentucky, there is no question in my mind that it was. Nearly everyone in the state was spared from the president's do-nothing strategy, and now that he's finally gotten his long-sought tax hike on the "rich," we can turn squarely toward the real problem, which is spending.
Predictably, the president is already claiming that his tax hike on "the rich" isn't enough. I have news for him: the moment he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect place to have that discussion.
The president may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it's the fight he is going to have, because it's a debate the country needs. That's the debate the American people really want. It's a debate Republicans are ready to have. And it's the debate that starts today, whether the president wants it or not.