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Weekly Column: 73,608 Pages


Location: Unknown

By Deb Fischer

In less than a week, automatic "across-the-board" budget cuts will go into effect, dangerously slashing the defense budget as well as jeopardizing thousands of American jobs. While Nebraskans know we must cut out-of-control government spending, I believe we should sensibly target these cuts at wasteful federal programs, not critical national security priorities.

I am working with my colleagues to replace the so-called "sequester" with smarter, careful cuts that allow the government to continue fulfilling its core duties. I am disappointed, however, that some of my colleagues have focused their efforts on raising taxes rather than cutting spending -- the very purpose of sequestration.

Despite the rhetoric coming out of Washington, the answer to every problem is not increasing taxes. I did not come to Washington to raise your taxes; indeed, the question of tax hikes was settled late last year -- before I arrived to the Senate -- when Republicans agreed to a $600 billion tax increase to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

For many months, we've heard the president call for a "balanced approach" to reduce the deficit. I agree. It's now time for both parties to make the tough choices, compromise, and cut government spending.

However, the current Senate proposal to avoid "across-the-board" cuts includes a number of new tax increases that succeed as poll-tested sound bites, but fail as good public policy. Nebraskans are tired of the gimmicks, and unfortunately, that appears to be where we're headed -- again.

While I support closing unfair tax loopholes, it is impossible to accomplish real, comprehensive tax reform with such a selective, piecemeal approach. Recently, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) expressed concern about "cherry-picking" loopholes outside of the framework of comprehensive tax reform. His opinion is especially important as he serves as Chairman of the Finance Committee, which is tasked with rewriting the nation's tax code.

"We owe it to the American people to do a comprehensive review of the code to ensure it works for today's economy and is flexible enough to adapt to the changing world," Baucus said. "Tax reform is about more than revenues. It is about simplifying peoples' lives, encouraging businesses to invest and grow, and boosting innovation and education. We are not going to have multiple bites at this apple. I want to ensure that when we do tax reform, we do it right," Baucus concluded.

I couldn't agree more.

A shortsighted approach to tax reform that targets specific industries would only undermine bipartisan efforts to overhaul our century-old tax code.

The experts agree: comprehensive tax reform will lead to desperately needed economic growth, and allow businesses to expand and create more jobs. Even the Business Roundtable, which supported the president's previous efforts to raise tax rates, now argues the current proposal would push the country in "the wrong direction."

Hardworking taxpayers are all too familiar with the complexity of current tax laws. The New York Times recently reported, "the volume of the tax code had nearly tripled in size during the last decade -- to 3.8 million words in February 2010 from 1.4 million in 2001 […] Americans spent 6.1 billion hours preparing their returns each year -- the equivalent of 3 million employees working full time."

Nebraskans shouldn't have to waste their time, or pay for expensive accountants just to forfeit more money to Uncle Sam. It's time for a simpler, fairer tax code. But instead of supporting gimmicks to pay for more government spending, I support comprehensive tax reform to generate real economic growth and make the lives of all Nebraskans easier.

In the coming days, I hope Republicans and Democrats will come together to identify responsible spending reductions to replace the "across-the-board" cuts -- it's not too late. Moreover, I look forward to working with Democrats like Senator Baucus, who appreciates the need to reform the tax code and regulations from page 1 all the way through page 73,608.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process, and I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Deb Fischer
United States Senator

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