Now that the calendar has flipped to 2013 and the so-called fiscal cliff crisis in Washington has been averted, people are asking if the agreement I helped negotiate last week was a perfect solution.
I'll be the first to say it isn't.
If it were up to me, no American would face tax increases, especially as our economy is still struggling. But there was no way around the fact that without some kind of agreement, taxes were set to rise dramatically on every single Kentuckian. I had to act to prevent that from happening.
As the clock ran out on 2012, President Barack Obama's strategy became clear. By doing nothing, Democrats in Washington would get everything they wanted. All of the Bush tax cuts would expire, raising tax rates on every person who pays income taxes. Severe across-the-board defense cuts would take effect. And Obama would have trillions more of your tax dollars to spend.
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It was a liberal's dream — but a taxpayer's nightmare.
Some counseled that we should simply let the president have his way. He's the one who has recklessly added trillions to the debt and done nothing to reform out-of-control entitlement programs that, if left unreformed, will drive the country into fiscal ruin. A majority of voters just rewarded that agenda by re-electing him to a second term. Why not just let them see what the effect of those policies really is?
Although it would've been the easiest decision politically, I believe that would be completely at odds with my duty to the people of Kentucky.
I knew that out of 4.4 million people who call Kentucky home, only about 5,800 tax filers had an income above $500,000. I hated the fact that taxes would rise no matter what I did, but I thought that if I could convince this White House to abandon some of its planned tax hikes and lock in the current middle-class rates permanently, I could ensure that 99.7 percent of Kentuckians were spared an income tax increase.
It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
By the time the deal was sealed and the Senate convened to vote, the massive tax increase I raced to avoid had already hit the books. Thankfully, the Senate approved the agreement 89 to 8, and we acted to repeal the new taxes before they hit Kentucky paychecks.
If I had thrown up my hands and blamed the entire mess on a liberal president who cannot be reasoned with, the average family of four in Kentucky would be paying $2,000 more next year in taxes. Some would have praised my unwillingness to bend but it would have done nothing to stop families from having less in their pocket as a result. For me, that's an easy choice.
Was it a great deal? No. As I said, taxes shouldn't be going up on anyone, and if I had had my way they wouldn't. Just as importantly, the transcendent issue of our time, the spiraling national debt, remains completely unaddressed. But was it worth it?
For Kentucky, there is no question in my mind that it was. Nearly everyone in the state was spared from the president's do-nothing strategy, and now that he's finally gotten his long-sought tax hike on the "rich," we can turn squarely toward the real problem, which is spending.
Predictably, the president is already claiming that his tax hike isn't enough.
I have news for him: The moment he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the current agreement, that was the last word on taxes. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect opportunity to have that discussion.
It's time to end the bickering in Washington and have a serious, substantive discussion about our most pressing issue: the long-term debt in this country, and how the only way we will ever get it under control is through serious entitlement reform. It will take leadership from both parties to enact meaningful reform and change the direction of our country.
The American people desperately want us to have this debate. It's a debate Republicans are ready to have. I look forward to beginning that debate today, before it's too late, with the president.