Need Cooperation to Address Fiscal Cliff

We Can Put Budget Cliff in Rearview

A version of this column ran earlier in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click here to read it in that format.

The Budget Control Act of 2011was drafted to match spending cuts with targeted revenue increases to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its debts. A short-term solution of $1 trillion in spending cuts was approved, but our long-term budget problems were not solved. Unless Congress finds another way, larger automatic cuts will start. At the end of 2012, massive automatic cuts will slash $1.2 trillion from the budget over 10 years. This budget time bomb, called sequestration was created as a measure of last resort in the Budget Control Act. It was designed to be painful so that both parties would be forced to negotiate away from partisan orthodoxy on spending and taxes in order to find agreement on a balanced budget. Unfortunately that did not happen and we are left with sequestration.

The quick enactment of such large cuts will create shockwaves in the US economy. I asked Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, about these cuts in a recent Financial Services Committee hearing. He responded by citing a Congressional Budget Office report that expects 1.2 million fewer jobs if sequestration is implemented.

Republicans are concerned about cuts to defense with little care about hits to spending for education, infrastructure, or seniors. I too care about ensuring a strong national defense, but I also care about a strong nation. These devastating cuts will cause hardships for families and local communities at a time when our economy has not fully improved.

Georgia will lose over $7 million in child care development block grants, which help residents with child care expenses while they work or attend school. Georgia would lose over $15 million for Head Start and over $30 million for special education programs (IDEA). Not only will these education support programs be cut, but the teachers and child care providers will be fired. A recent study by a George Mason University Economist estimated that the state would lose over 54,000 jobs in defense and non-defense related jobs.

Republicans say they want balanced budgets, yet sign pledges to Washington lobbyists to protect tax breaks for the very wealthy and corporate special interests. They vow to protect every dollar of defense spending while billions of US dollars are being wasted on Afghan warlords and Pakistani armies who support the Taliban and other enemies. We can find ways to carefully pare military spending and still protect America’s borders. There are also ways to preserve tax cuts for middle-income families, while asking millionaires to pay the same rates they paid during the Clinton years. In the 1990s, defense spending was trimmed and tax rates were higher than today. Back then, the economy was stronger, unemployment was lower and federal budgets were balanced.

Republicans talk a big game on defense but they don’t want to pay for it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were funded with massive borrowing in the 2000’s. While we were sending thousands of men and women into harm’s way, we were spending our surpluses and borrowing more. In addition, taxes were slashed, which created massive deficits. The fiscal situation needs to be repaired before hard set ideologues bankrupt America. I can respect people who want smaller government. But imploding our economy in the process hampers our ability to plan for future challenges by educating our children, researching new discoveries, and investing in our roads, bridges and ports.

We must find agreement now on how to solve these problems. The Constitution was created out of a series of compromises among great leaders. Not unlike today, our history is full of passionate debates on how to build a great America. But, it was our fore bearers’ ability to work together that made our country strong. We are staring at a fiscal cliff, but there is still time to slow down, check our map and turn in the right direction.