While many are looking forward to the holidays and perhaps a little time off, our recently elected representatives in Congress have some massive tasks looming.
At the top of the list is making a deal to avoid pushing the nation over the so-called fiscal cliff, which is really a one-two punch combination of expiring tax cuts and an automatic across-the-board cut in spending that some economists believe would, if allowed to take place, plunge the nation into a deep recession.
The spending cuts, called sequestration, would be evenly split between defense spending and civil spending, and would total $109 billion in 2013. Exempt from the cuts would be any war spending, or the entitlement programs Social Security and Medicaid (although Medicare would see a 2 percent cut to providers).
Sequestration is, essentially, forced spending cuts put in place way back in 2011, when Congress was not able to reach any sort of agreement on spending in order to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. Many of you may recall at that time federal government spending was approaching a self-imposed debt limit, and Congress needed to raise that debt limit, or essentially default on existing debt.
Because neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing to offer any significant compromise on long-term taxing and spending cuts, they essentially made a stop-gap deal that allowed the debt ceiling to be raised, but pushed the needed tough decisions down the road a year, which is how Congress typically works.
Give the members of Congress some credit, though, for recognizing the fact that they knew their own propensity for putting off those tough decisions, and that with no consequences for working out a long-term budget plan nothing would get done. Thus the sequestration deadline — get it done or come 2013, automatic budget cuts begin taking place. That means reduced federal spending, reduced service to the public, and ultimately job cuts both in the public and private sector.
No one would argue the need for some federal spending cuts, but these would not be targeted. Every department, save for those exceptions mentioned above, would get hit equally. Sequestration would not be good for the economy.
Yet Congress, as well as the president, took no action over the summer or in the fall leading up to the elections, afraid that doing anything — even the right thing — would hurt re-election chances.
Now the election is over, and we have just a few weeks before these spending cuts take effect. Now is the time for Rep. Howard Coble, our former representative Virginia Foxx, and our two senators, Kay Hagan and Richard Burr, to move their colleagues toward a long-term, sustainable spending and tax plan. Party politics really have no place in this discussion — these four individuals need to reach across the divide between the parties, with a willingness to compromise and do whatever is necessary to reach a deal that will avoid sequestration.