Tell Congress Avoid a Fiscal Showdown

With the election behind us, Congress will soon be debating the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Congress has already approved a mix of spending cuts and tax increases that, if unchanged, will sharply reduce the 2013 deficit and, according to experts, likely cause a recession.

Vertical SolidarityUnder current plans, taxes will increase as many tax breaks come to an end. Spending will decline sharply due to cuts approved in 2011 and additional across-the-board cuts (called the “sequester”) that will begin next year. The deficit will be reduced by over half.

But given the underlying weakness of the economy, numerous experts predict that such a large reduction in the deficit will trigger a recession next year. So Congress is planning to modify the budget. Policymakers will continue some tax breaks while ending others or, in other words, some people will see their taxes rise and others will not. Congress will also continue (or increase) some types of spending while cutting other types.

A faithful federal budget would protect the most vulnerable through strong safety-net programs, maintain core government services to promote the common good, and provide adequate resources for shared priorities through a just tax system. It would also fairly balance funding for the military against other vital needs at home.  More about a faithful budget.

The federal budget must reflect our national priorities. We need to carefully consider whose taxes should rise and whose should not, and what spending should be continued and what should be cut.

Taxes. Taxes are scheduled to rise next year because a number of temporary tax breaks are ending. But to avoid a recession, some of the tax breaks should be continued. The people who most need to continue to receive a tax break are lower- and middle-income households. But Congress must end tax breaks for higher income household, usually defined as the 2% with annual incomes over $250,000.

Spending. In recent years, military spending has risen rapidly, up by nearly 50% over the past decade not including special funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At the same time, spending on the safety net and core government functions – like environmental protections, education, the federal courts, energy programs, and public health – has risen more slowly or has even been cut. Next year’s planned military cuts including the “sequester” would reduce military expenditures to the level of 2007, a year when the U.S. was actively fighting two wars which are now winding down. Experts say the Pentagon can absorb these cuts without negatively impacting national security. Congress must go forward with cuts in military spending while continuing to fully fund the safety net and core government functions.

The federal budget is a moral document. Our nation’s taxes and spending priorities must reflect our values. This wealthy nation can avoid a fiscal showdown without punishing poor families, raising unemployment, or increasing inequality.

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