Never have I been as disappointed as I am now in over 40 years of serving in the House of Representatives. Our nation's financial system is on the brink of collapse as we approach the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit.
Yet, in the over 200 days they have controlled the House, the Republicans have not only ignored the unemployment crisis, but are holding the president and the American people hostage by refusing to let America meet its fiscal obligations unless we cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
My Democratic colleagues will continue fighting to ensure that the debt limit is raised, but it won't come at the expense of the middle class and most vulnerable among us.
For months, the president has worked to bring Democrats and Republicans together to find a balanced solution to reducing our long-term deficit. There are currently two different approaches: Republicans want a short-term plan to raise the debt ceiling by upwards of $2.5 trillion with deeper spending cuts in "entitlement" programs; Democrats propose cutting waste and fraud in our expenditures while asking the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions. Our plan would reduce the deficit by around $4 trillion and put us on a path to paying down our debt.
Defaulting on our financial obligations is reckless and irresponsible, but the Republican plan is unacceptable. Six months from now, they would again threaten our economic stability and refuse to avoid another default unless we accept their unbalanced, cuts-only approach that asks nothing of those at the top of the income scales while shedding the safety net for seniors and working families.
The cost of inaction on the debt ceiling is dire. For the first time in history, our country's credit rating would be downgraded, causing investors around the world to lose full faith in the credit of the Unites States. Interest rates will skyrocket for people with mortgages and car and student loans, along with anyone with a credit card. Many will lose their retirement savings. The government will not be able to pay its bills, including monthly Social Security checks, veterans' benefits and the contracts we've signed with thousands of businesses.
Our country is still recovering from the financial meltdown that was caused by irresponsible spending and deregulation policies from the past decade. When President Bill Clinton left in 2000, the government had a budget surplus. Instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts for the wealthiest and two unfunded, undeclared wars.
In this fiscal year alone, Afghanistan and Iraq will cost American taxpayers over $1 trillion. Our current involvement in Libya costs taxpayers $55 million per day. For the sake of our heroic soldiers and our nation, we must bring our troops home.
Congress should be focused on getting America back to work. At 9.2 percent, our current unemployment rate is the highest we've seen since the Great Depression. The situation is worse for minorities.
When working people can't purchase what they need, our small merchants suffer and can't add employees. Yet, Republicans talk about cutting funds for our police, teachers, firefighters and civic workers. They are talking about taking away more jobs when we should be coming together to create them and invest in our nation's infrastructure and children's education.
I was appalled last week to learn that a group of Senators known as the "Gang of six" are interested in cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The debt limit must be raised, but I won't support any proposal that places our economic obligations on seniors, the sick and the disabled. It's not just a political issue, but a moral issue.
This political game of chicken must come to an end-the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake.
Originally published on New York Amsterdam News