By President Obama
For years now, America has been spending more money than we take in. The result is that we have too much debt on our nation's credit card — debt that will ultimately weaken our economy, lead to higher interest rates for all Americans, and leave us unable to invest in things like education, or protect vital programs like Medicare.
Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this debt, but both parties have a responsibility to come together and solve the problem. That's what the American people expect of us. Every day, families are figuring out how to stretch their paychecks a little further, sacrifice what they can't afford, and budget only for what's truly important. It's time for Washington to do the same.
Why cuts are necessary
In the short term, my No. 1 focus is getting our economy back to a place where businesses can grow and hire. That's why I want to take a number of steps right away, like extending tax relief for middle-class families and putting construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and highways.
But over the last few months, I've also said that I'm willing to cut historic amounts of spending in order to reduce our long-term deficits. I'm willing to cut spending on domestic programs to the lowest level in half a century. I'm willing to cut defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars. I'm willing to take on the rising costs of health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, so we can meet our obligations to an aging population.
Some of these cuts would eliminate wasteful spending, weapons we don't need, or fraud and abuse in our health care system. Still, some of the cuts would target worthwhile programs that do a lot of good for our country. They're cuts that some people in my own party aren't too happy about, and frankly, I wouldn't make them if we didn't have so much debt.
But the American people deserve the truth from their leaders. And the truth is, you can't get rid of the deficit by simply eliminating waste and fraud, or getting rid of pet projects and foreign aid, like some have suggested. Those things represent only a tiny fraction of what we spend our money on.
At the same time, it's also true that if we tackle our deficit with spending cuts alone, it will likely end up costing seniors and middle-class families a great deal. Retired Americans will have to pay a lot more for their health care. Students will have to pay a lot more for college. A worker who gets laid off might not have any temporary help or job training to fall back on. At a time of high gas prices, we'll have to stop much of the clean energy research that will help free us from our dependence on oil.
That's why people in both parties have suggested that the best way to take on our deficit is with a more balanced approach. Yes, we should make serious spending cuts. But we should also ask the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations to pay their fair share through fundamental tax reform. Before we stop funding clean energy research, we should ask oil companies and corporate jet owners to give up the tax breaks that other companies don't get. Before we ask college students to pay more, we should ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries. Before we ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, we should ask people like me to give up tax breaks they don't need and never asked for.
The middle class hasn't just borne the brunt of this recession; they've been dealing with higher costs and stagnant wages for more than a decade now. It's just not right to ask them to pay the whole tab — especially when they're not the ones who caused this mess in the first place.
Raising revenues: a bipartisan position
A balanced deficit deal that includes some new revenues isn't just a Democratic position. It's a position that has been taken by everyone from Warren Buffett to Bill O'Reilly. It's a position that was taken this week by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, who worked together on a promising plan of their own. And it's been the position of every Democratic and Republican leader who has worked to reduce the deficit in their time, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.
There will be plenty of haggling over the details of all these plans in the days ahead. But right now, we have the opportunity to do something big and meaningful. This debate shouldn't just be about avoiding the catastrophe of not paying our bills and defaulting on our debt. That's the least we should do. This debate offers the chance to put our economy on stronger footing, restore a sense of fairness in our country, and secure a better future for our children. I want to seize that opportunity, and ask Americans of both parties and no party to join me in that effort.
President Obama wrote this column exclusively for USA TODAY.