I have worked for years with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress on ways to reduce our nation’s deficit and debt, which is currently at a staggering $16 trillion and growing daily. There are three main elements of meaningful deficit reduction — getting federal spending under control, reforming entitlement spending, and enacting meaningful tax reform that must include lower tax rates for everybody and eliminate special-interest loopholes in the tax code that don’t benefit average Americans.
Until we cut spending, control entitlements and enact meaningful tax reform our country will continue to morph into a European-type economy and our freedoms will continue to erode.
In my work with the Senate’s “Gang of Eight,” I have attempted to build a consensus for fiscal responsibility. During the course of my work, I have had the privilege of talking to thousands of Georgians who are concerned — even frightened — about where America is headed.
And I have consistently said to everyone that first, we absolutely must cut spending. America is in the midst of a fiscal crisis, and Washington is deficit-spending more than $1 trillion each year. Last year, the government spent at a rate of 23 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), and took in revenues of only 15 percent of GDP. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that this is unsustainable.
And second, Democrats must be willing to reform entitlements, including Medicare and Medicaid, in a meaningful way. This is the fastest-growing part of the federal budget. We need to shore up these programs’ finances to make them solvent for the future.
And third, Republicans and Democrats must be willing to reform the tax code, which, through its loopholes, deductions and exemptions, has become little more than another Washington welfare program to benefit special interests, not taxpayers. The result of Congress’ inaction and inability to reform the tax code can result in higher tax rates for everyone.
With the exception of opposition from national Democrats and Democrats in Senate leadership, hardly anyone disagrees that all three of these elements are vital to our nation’s future.
And yet, within the framework of these three important issues come some strong disagreements. To accomplish anything in Congress requires that Republicans and Democrats come together — for the good of the country.
That means neither side will get everything it wants. That is the way our founding fathers designed the American system, and it has worked well for more than 200 years. I intend to continue to work to bring Democrats in the Senate to the table to work with Republicans to save our country.
Entitlement reform generates heated debates — along with some outright fights — in Congress. This issue is sensitive, yet we must address it and we must successfully reform entitlements if we are ever to reduce the deficit.
And last, tax reform also generates heated, emotional debate. Tax reform is not tax raising. There is a major difference between raising revenues and raising taxes.
We don’t have to raise taxes to raise revenue. If we remove loopholes from the tax code while keeping or modifying deductions that benefit many Americans, the revenue generated will actually result in lower tax rates for individuals while giving the government more resources to pay down the debt. That’s a win-win. And that is not a tax increase.
Yet there are some who inexplicably call any tax reform that generates additional revenue a tax increase. I call it giving hardworking Americans a tax break while making our country financially solvent.
There are other steps we also need to take, such as lowering corporate rates, which now stand at nearly 40 percent, the highest of the world’s large developed economies. And I am the original Senate sponsor of the FairTax, which would allow Americans to pay taxes only on what they spend. But Senate leadership has failed to bring the measure up for a vote. Now we must try other avenues. In fact, we don’t have much time to take action.
Today we are face-to-face with decisions that will determine America’s future for years to come. My commitment to you continues to be that I will do all I possibly can to preserve and strengthen our country’s future so your children and grandchildren can enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities you and I have enjoyed.
My job is to protect taxpayers, not special interests. That means analyzing every aspect of the federal budget — including the tax code — to find savings to help trim our debt, before future generations are forced to raise taxes.
Those you have elected to represent you in Washington are about to face some difficult choices, likely some of the most difficult votes they have ever made. If we continue as we are going now, our nation will sink further and deeper into debt. But if Democrats will join Republicans and work with us, we can come out of this crisis stronger than ever before.
The answer is not to raise taxes and keep spending like there is no tomorrow. The answer lies in both parties coming together for the good of the country to reduce spending, control entitlements and reform our monstrous tax code.
Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie is the senior U.S. Senator from Georgia.