By: Jay Rockefeller
There is no question that our country is at the crossroads of some profoundly important budget decisions -- with far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on our economy, our families and our fiscal standing as a nation.
The made-up term "fiscal cliff" paints a pretty menacing picture and in my view is unnecessarily dramatic.
The issues we're facing are certainly very serious, and they must be addressed -- which is why I'm working at it full-time -- but our country will not come to a grinding halt on Jan. 1 if there isn't a final agreement by then. And it's important that the solution we put in place is balanced and fair to all Americans.
The fundamental challenge before Congress is to keep our economy growing and shore up the building blocks of a strong middle class even as we aggressively reduce our deficit. Dec. 31 is an important date because recent tax cuts are set to expire and a mountain of automatic spending cuts are about to go into effect -- on top of $1 trillion in spending cuts Congress enacted last year.
These spending cuts and taxes, along with other changes set in law -- like lower payment rates for Medicare doctors and reduced unemployment insurance -- are all happening around the same time, and taken together they've been labeled a "fiscal cliff."
We got into this situation because of deep disagreement about whether it makes good sense to reduce our deficit by asking the very wealthy to pay a little more or by putting the full burden onto middle-class and struggling families and small businesses.
I have long championed the idea that those at the very top should be asked to do at least their fair share. And I've been encouraged in recent days to hear people on both sides of the aisle agree that a real compromise is possible, and that getting there will require everyone to give a little. That's a crucial first step.
But outside Washington, here in West Virginia, I'm hearing from people who want to know what all of this means for our country and for them -- for seniors, working families, their friends and neighbors. They want and deserve assurances that we won't let supports for working families -- like the tax credits for children and for college tuition and essential funding for education, job creation, and health care -- bear the brunt of deficit reduction.