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Wilmington News Journal - Time for a balanced, bipartisan deal to avoid fiscal cliff


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By Senator Chris Coons

With only 12 days left before the calendar turns to 2013, the time for a big, balanced, bipartisan deal to address the so-called "fiscal cliff" is running short -- but it is not too late.

More than $500 billion in automatic spending cuts, tax increases and other fiscal changes are scheduled to take place at the beginning of next year, and if a compromise isn't reached to prevent it, middle class families in Delaware will see their tax bills go up and our economy could be pushed back into recession.

Over the last few weeks and months, I have heard from families and business owners across Delaware who want their elected officials to find the political will to reach a bipartisan compromise -- and quickly.

The hour is late, but we still have the opportunity to make budgetary choices that reflect our values, protect the middle class and reduce our unsustainable debt and deficit.

It has been difficult to watch the months turn to weeks and the weeks turn to days as this deadline approached. It now seems unlikely a bipartisan deal can be struck, studied and voted on before Christmas, but it is my hope that Congress will return immediately after the holiday and address this problem before the new year.

No matter what happens in these waning days, we can't give up on finding a balanced solution that responsibly reduces our deficits. The best way to do that is to combine tough spending cuts with reforms to our tax code that bring in more revenue while increasing fairness to taxpayers.

As it stands, our deficit and debt are unsustainable. Last year, we ran a budget deficit of more than $1 trillion and we now have a national debt of over $16 trillion. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that excessive debt hurts our competitiveness, causes interest payments to rise and crowds out critical investments in our country's future.

The interest rate we pay on our debt will only grow over time, so if we want to protect essential, pro-growth investments in priorities like education, infrastructure and innovation, we have to reduce the deficit. However, drastic, across-the-board cuts to domestic spending will only push our economy back into recession and put critical services at risk.

Jeopardizing public safety by reducing funding for cops and firefighters, leaving Delawareans out in the cold by cutting assistance for home heating oil, hampering the progress of scientific research, and causing families to abruptly lose their unemployment insurance are not American values, and they are not the way to solve our fiscal challenges.

In fact, many of these programs already sustained substantial cuts under the Budget Control Act, which was passed last year and will reduce spending by $1 trillion over the next decade.

The services on which the most vulnerable Americans depend should not take the full brunt of spending cuts. Here, too, we need balance.

We can ensure a strong national defense and a best-in-the-world military without spending additional money that the Department of Defense doesn't need or want.

Likewise, those of us who seek to sustain and defend the progressive legacy of our entitlement programs must address the fiscal reality facing these programs in order to ensure they will be strong and sustainable well into the future.

Spending cuts must be part of our fiscal solution, but simple math tells us revenue must also play a meaningful role. Balance is the only way to provide the economic certainty necessary to sustain a recovery while continuing to invest in our future.

Although simply averting the fiscal cliff and kicking the can down the road seems like an easy choice, the reality is that our country will need to make an array of tough decisions about our competing priorities, such as keeping taxes low, investing in basic services and reducing our deficits and debt.

The best solution to our long-term economic challenges is a big, balanced, bipartisan solution that both reduces spending and raises revenue. That is the most responsible path toward bringing down our dangerous debt and deficit in a way that reflects America's values.

It's time for Washington to accept what Delawareans already know: only compromise can move us forward.

For both parties, simply blaming the other side and waiting for the next election is no longer a tolerable strategy. The truth is, working together is not a sign of weakness, it's a show of strength -- and there is no time to waste.

This op-ed appeared in the Wilmington News Journal:

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