There was a lot to watch in Washington, D.C., this past week.
The 112th Congress was ending, and the 113th Congress was getting ready to be sworn in.
That always makes national news, as Americans watch to see how Congress will change and what impact the new Congress and its legislation will have on their lives.
But in the midst of all this, another drama was playing out. America was headed over a "fiscal cliff" without a compromise on the Bush tax cuts; the sequester, which would bring huge cuts in both defense programs and domestic programs, was at hand; and America was reaching the debt ceiling limit, which will require Congress to either take action to raise the amount of money that we can borrow to pay our bills, or push the country into default and/or a government shut-down. Americans were not enjoying the cliff-hanger or the nasty fighting about all this, and were left wondering why this seems impossible to accomplish. Can't Republicans and Democrats compromise?
At the last possible moment, the president, the Republican-led House, and the Democratic-led Senate did find a compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts and on some other tax issues, but because of the compromise, it actually will do very little for another huge issue this country faces -- the debt. President Barack Obama and the Democrats wanted to let the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent expire, since the original intent was for all of the tax cuts to be temporary, but they did not want to hit the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers in a tough economy. They compromised with Republicans, whose House leader, John Boehner, previously could not get his caucus to even allow tax cuts for millionaires to expire.
So, the compromise was set at $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. The tax deal will raise $600 billion over the next 10 years, which is just 7 percent of the projected increase in the national debt. The debt is now estimated to be $24.8 trillion in 2022, instead of $25.4.
Democrats and Republicans agree that there are spending cuts that must be made, but we disagree where. Republicans want to put earned Medicare and Social Security benefits on the table, and most Democrats, including me, do not. I would vote to raise the Social Security cap to keep this critical program strong far into the future.
Many members of Congress want to find cuts in defense, because the Pentagon budget has grown so dramatically over the last decade.
I personally support intensive auditing and oversight to find waste, fraud, and inefficiency throughout every agency in the federal government, since there are plenty of savings to be had.
However, we still need more revenue if we are going to make real progress at paying down our debt, including revenue gained by closing loopholes and ending subsidies.
On Jan. 3, USA Today quoted Moody's Investment Services, "Further measures that bring about a downward debt trajectory over the medium term are likely to be needed to support the AAA rating ... Translation: cut spending, raise more revenue, or risk a credit-rating crisis later this year."
Unfortunately, many in Washington will not concede that accomplishing debt reduction will require not just cutting, but raising more revenue as well. This idea frightens them and a lot of their base. These politicians worry that they will be challenged politically if they do something bold.
This timidity and fear of retribution must be cured. All of us in Congress need to step up and step out and lead. Failure now cannot be an option. Americans are counting on us. I hope and pray we don't let them down.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represents New Hampshire's 1st District. She can be reached at 1530 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515. She can also be reached by calling 202-225-5456, or at 33 Lowell St., Manchester, NH 03101, 641-9536, or www.shea-porter.house.gov. She is serving on the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.