Toward the Fiscal Cliff
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In emergency situations, medical personnel are trained to stabilize the patient first, then nurse him or her back to health. Facing a fiscal emergency, Congress must follow the same course of action.
To stabilize the patient, Congress must immediately extend the 2001 and 2003 tax rates—including current marginal rates, dividend and capital gains rates, and estate tax relief—as well as expired and soon-to-expire business tax provisions such as the R&D tax credit. Failure to do so will result in the largest tax increase in U.S. history.
At the same time, lawmakers must find spending cuts to replace the automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts scheduled to take effect in January as part of last year’s debt ceiling agreement in Congress. The scheduled spending cuts, referred to in Washington-speak as sequestration, would disproportionately cut national security programs while largely letting runaway entitlement programs off the hook. Economists from across the political spectrum warn that the combination of these spending cuts and tax increases would have a devastating effect on a sputtering U.S. economy, quite possibly resulting in a recession. Just the possibility that we’ll drive off the fiscal cliff has increased economic uncertainty, hampering consumer spending and business investment.
After stabilizing the patient, lawmakers must get to work on fundamental, comprehensive tax reform that lowers marginal tax rates, promotes the global competitiveness of U.S. companies, reduces complexities, and eases compliance. At the same time, they must develop a long-term plan to address America’s excessive spending, particularly entitlement spending. There is no way to make a significant impact on projected deficits without meaningful steps to overhaul Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other mandatory spending programs, which make up nearly 60% of the budget.
Getting our fiscal house in order will not be painless. It will require sacrifice from all Americans and political courage from Washington. But failure is simply not an option, and neither is continued inaction.