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On Nov. 6, the American people sent a strong message to Congress by re-electing President Barack Obama and adding Democratic members to the House and Senate.
Voters expressed their trust in the president and their support for his plans to grow the economy, protect the middle class and invest in the future. Voters also sent a strong message rejecting rigid ideology and calling on Congress to find common ground to meet the serious challenges facing our nation.
A commitment to the values and priorities the president and Democrats articulated spoke to both the pragmatism and idealism of the American people. The voters endorsed the belief that we are a great nation, with tremendous assets and great strengths. They called on us to meet our obligations to our children and our seniors, to our current responsibilities and to the future.
To accomplish these goals, we need to set our nation on the right path to meet our challenges, based on the goals of economic growth, opportunity for all and the capacity to the lead the world politically and economically.
We are faced with the challenge of avoiding the fiscal cliff created by Congress to force us to face the realities of serious deficits at a time of fragile but sustained economic growth. To meet this challenge, we have to accept that the remedy requires spending discipline, new revenue and an understanding of the realities of commitments we have made and are expected to keep to our seniors, veterans and children.
We begin by acknowledging these truths and by agreeing that we are all in this together. We need to reach bipartisan solutions, so we should start where we agree.
First, we should extend the tax cuts for middle-class Americans. These taxpayers represent 98 percent of American families and businesses, and we should begin by ensuring that their tax rates do not go up. This also means we have to find a way to ensure the alternative minimum tax is not applied to these middle-class taxpayers.
The extension of tax cuts for the middle class should be accompanied by action that every bipartisan commission has told us we must take: Allow the tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest Americans to expire, enabling us to bring down the deficit and meet our obligations. It is one of a number of fiscally responsible actions we must take to tackle the financial challenges ahead. This is the start of a bigger agreement on taxes, and it is an important step we must take before the end of the year.
Second, both Republicans and Democrats agree that we must avert a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to the doctors who care for our seniors. We should stop this cut and change the way we reimburse physicians under Medicare to reward quality, efficiency and improved outcomes for our seniors. Full repeal and a path to a new reimbursement system are essential if we are to contain costs and meet our obligation to current and future seniors who rely on Medicare. Again, we should start where we agree and relieve patients and their caregivers of this threat before the end of the year and commit ourselves to finding a way to meet the promise of Medicare without ending Medicare as we know it for future seniors.
Third, we have to acknowledge that there is more to be done to bring spending in line with revenues and to raise the revenue to meet our obligations. The answer lies neither in all spending cuts nor all revenue increases. Most of us know that. There are tax expenditures that should be eliminated. There are investments in the public and private sector that must be made to ensure our economy grows. This includes spending on basic science and technology, education and innovation, and infrastructure and domestic energy.
We have to commit to tackle broader tax changes that result in new revenue if we are to meet the deficit reduction targets and see economic growth now and in the future. We should do this early in the new year to provide certainty for families and predictability for businesses and to build consumer and investor confidence.
The current fiscal path requires solutions. We should take the immediate action outlined above and set ourselves on a path to a comprehensive tax overhaul, deficit reduction and economic growth. This can be done only with bipartisan cooperation.
We must respond to the expectations the American people expressed in this election, give the economy the boost it needs and offer all Americans cause to be hopeful about the future.
Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa., is a member of the Budget and Foreign Affairs committees.