From my first day in Washington, I’ve worked continually to try to get our fiscal house in order. Time and again, though, a big deal has been out of reach. With the election behind us, now is the time to finally come together and put this country’s finances first.
In Washington, the country is fast approaching a deadline that was designed to bring both parties to the table to negotiate a big deal: the “fiscal cliff.”
The fiscal cliff is not imaginary. I wish it were. But it is all too real. And if we don’t steer clear of it, it will be all too disruptive to our still fragile national economy.
Simply put, the fiscal cliff is a potentially destructive combination of tax hikes on just about everyone and spending cuts on just about every government agency, all set to hit Jan. 1.
Taken together, the new fiscal policies taking effect with the New Year could wallop our economy so hard it could trigger another job-killing recession.
How did we get in such a fix? And more importantly, how can we get out of it with bipartisan, common sense solutions that not only will get our spending under control but also allow us to continue making investments that will strengthen our economy?
In the summer of 2011, the President and Congress couldn’t agree on a way to fix our finances, so we set up a number of consequences to encourage agreement. They were supposed to be powerful incentives for a permanent deal to bring our national deficit and debt — now $1.1 trillion and $16.3 trillion, respectively — under control.
At the time, everyone reasoned that surely Washington would reach some reasonable and lasting agreement on fixing our finances long before going over the fiscal cliff, perhaps even through a so-called deficit supercommittee, which was divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
But the deadline for the supercommittee, just days before Thanksgiving last year, came and went without an agreement on the deficit and the debt. And Washington quickly pivoted to reelection campaigning, all but ignoring the fiscal cliff still on the horizon.
Today, for some in Washington, there’s the temptation to just delay the fiscal cliff tax hikes and spending cuts long enough so the new Congress that convenes in January can fix them. For others, there’s the lure of just letting the country go over the fiscal cliff temporarily as leverage to get the kind of budget solutions they want.
For me — and for the people of West Virginia — we can’t do either. It’s time for a “grand bargain,” that’s the only way to truly get our fiscal house in order. No more excuses — it’s time for action.
And we don’t have to waste any more time because we already have a strong, bipartisan framework for reducing the deficit — with some tough medicine for Democrats, and some tough medicine for Republicans, but — as a whole — good medicine for America.
It’s no secret that I have long favored the framework developed almost two years ago by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson — a Democrat and a Republican, respectively. It is the most bipartisan and the most comprehensive plan out there — encompassing targeted spending cuts, additional revenue, entitlement reform and overhauling our tax system in a responsible way that makes sense and promotes economic growth.
Most of Washington tried to ignore their plan during the election. But in September, I invited Bowles and Simpson to a fiscal summit in West Virginia to lay out the fiscal facts and to explain the best options we have for getting our budget under control again.
Their plan needs some tweaks — not everyone agrees with everything in it, not even Bowles and Simpson. But we still have enough time to get it right before we reach the fiscal cliff. All we need is good will, political courage and common sense.
Two years have passed since Bowles and Simpson put forward their framework. A full year has now passed since Congress’s deficit supercommittee collapsed without a deal to get the federal government’s spending under control. But here we are again, just weeks away from the fiscal cliff that was supposed to produce a lasting deal.
With our debt continuing to soar and too many Americans still looking for jobs, these are times that demand the very best of Washington. So I urge all my colleagues to sit down together for as long as it takes to reach a deal and do the right thing for this nation.
Everywhere in West Virginia and all the other states, families are making tough choices about how to make ends meet. It’s time for Washington to do the same. We can’t afford more delay — and the American people deserve better. We need a “grand bargain” and we need it now. So I urge all my colleagues to sit down together for as long as it takes to reach a deal that we can do the right thing for this great nation. I vow to do my part for the people of West Virginia and of this nation.
(Manchin is West Virginia’s junior senator.)