Comment of Senator Patrick Leahy On President Obama’s Debt Reduction Proposal

President Obama called the nation to the vital task of charting a sustainable budget path to a better America. 

Congress must set aside the temptation to delusion and illusion.  It is unfortunate for example that Congress already has spent inordinate time and effort this year in negotiating three rounds of deep cuts only in the discretionary part of this year’s budget – a relatively small fraction of overall federal spending.  

Setting a realistic course also means taking honest appraisal of the flawed policies that have compounded the debt problem.  It was the height of irresponsibility to choose to borrow for our two most recent wars, and that folly was compounded by throwing out tax breaks like confetti that were tilted toward the wealthiest in our society.  Tax policy in recent years has greatly benefitted millionaires and billionaires, greatly expanding the earnings gap that separates the top and the bottom of the American income spectrum.  Borrowing for war and handing out tax cuts to the wealthiest just one decade ago quickly dried up the budget surplus and began digging us deeper and deeper into debt.  Never before that have we sent our war bills to our kids and grandkids.

Correcting that wrong turn would be a turn back to solid American values.  I voted against the Bush-era tax cuts that were tilted heavily toward the very wealthiest Americans, and I voted against going to war in Iraq.  Those may not have been the most popular votes at the time, but the relative few in the Senate who cast them were voting against the path that has led us to much of the current economic turmoil and record budget deficits.

I agree with the President that we should build on the bipartisan ideas for long-term debt reduction laid out last year by the national commission.  That panel, which took ideas from both Republicans and Democrats, produced an overall framework for addressing the nation’s fiscal situation and ensuring that our money is spent wisely.  

Everything should be on the table as we debate responsible debt reduction, including the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes.  The burden must be fairly shared.  I support President Obama’s call for tax reform to simplify our loophole-ridden tax code, but any changes must be fair and justified.  This is far more fair than balancing our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

There is no understating the difficulty of this challenge.  There will be sharp disagreements along the way, but I firmly believe we can restore fiscal responsibility without abandoning the equally vital need for key investments in our economy, our families, and our future.  Budgets are about priorities, and we must firmly keep Vermont’s and America’s values and priorities foremost in mind in our work ahead.  

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