Keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all. None. In fact, I want to extend the payroll tax cut for working families. What we’re talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade – millionaires and billionaires – to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make. And I think these patriotic Americans are willing to pitch in. In fact, over the last few decades, they’ve pitched in every time we passed a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit. The first time a deal passed, a predecessor of mine made the case for a balanced approach by saying this:
“Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.”
Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach – an approach that was pursued not only by President Reagan, but by the first President Bush, President Clinton, myself, and many Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. So we are left with a stalemate.
Now, what makes today’s stalemate so dangerous is that it has been tied to something known as the debt ceiling – a term that most people outside of Washington have probably never heard of before.
Understand – raising the debt ceiling does not allow Congress to spend more money. It simply gives our country the ability to pay the bills that Congress has already racked up. In the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine. Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every President has signed it. President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it 7 times. And we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd, or else we won’t be able to pay all of our bills.
Unfortunately, for the past several weeks, Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they’ll vote to prevent America’s first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach.
If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills – bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses.
For the first time in history, our country’s Triple A credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people. We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis – one caused almost entirely by Washington.
Defaulting on our obligations is a reckless and irresponsible outcome to this debate. And Republican leaders say that they agree we must avoid default. But the new approach that Speaker Boehner unveiled today, which would temporarily extend the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now. In other words, it doesn’t solve the problem.
First of all, a six-month extension of the debt ceiling might not be enough to avoid a credit downgrade and the higher interest rates that all Americans would have to pay as a result. We know what we have to do to reduce our deficits; there’s no point in putting the economy at risk by kicking the can further down the road.
But there’s an even greater danger to this approach. Based on what we’ve seen these past few weeks, we know what to expect six months from now. The House will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach. Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions. Again, they will demand harsh cuts to programs like Medicare. And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.
That is no way to run the greatest country on Earth. It is a dangerous game we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now. Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.
Congress now has one week left to act, and there are still paths forward. The Senate has introduced a plan to avoid default, which makes a down payment on deficit reduction and ensures that we don’t have to go through this again in six months.
I think that’s a much better path, although serious deficit reduction would still require us to tackle the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform. Either way, I have told leaders of both parties that they must come up with a fair compromise in the next few days that can pass both houses of Congress – a compromise I can sign. And I am confident we can reach this compromise. Despite our disagreements, Republican leaders and I have found common ground before. And I believe that enough members of both parties will ultimately put politics aside and help us make progress.