Sequestration is scheduled to hit in just a few days and, unless Congress acts, deep automatic cuts will slash critical investments in national priorities like education, law enforcement, and defense. Sequestration will threaten our economic recovery, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost us 750,000 jobs within the year.
Some of our colleagues think sequestration is inevitable. Others actually think it's a good idea. We disagree. We've been working to replace sequestration in a balanced and bipartisan way for the past year, and the only reason we haven't gotten a deal is because Republicans have insisted on protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We believe there is still a path to agreement -- but it is going to require true compromise from both sides.
Democrats believe that deficit reduction, and sequestration in particular, should be handled in a way that is balanced, fair for the middle class, and good for the economy. We certainly believe that we need to cut spending responsibly -- and are willing to make tough compromises to do so. But we also think that while families continue to struggle in this tough economy, the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations ought to be a part of the solution. To us, that's just common sense.
Although it should have happened far sooner, the step toward compromise in the year-end deal to avoid the fiscal cliff was encouraging. This deal replaced the first two months of sequestration with an equal mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, splitting spending cuts evenly between defense and non-defense. It passed with bipartisan support, receiving 40 Republican votes in the Senate and 85 Republican votes in the House.
The year-end deal set a strong precedent for replacing sequestration with a balanced approach. We think building on this bipartisan foundation is the best path forward to replacing sequestration over the medium and long term.
We know Americans strongly prefer a balanced approach. We saw in this last election how voters rejected trickle-down economics and the budget offered by House Republicans, and supported President Obama's vision for shared sacrifice and prosperity built from the middle out. A recent USA TODAY poll showed that 76 percent of Americans think the President and Congress should focus on a combination of spending cuts and new revenues to reduce the budget deficit. And this was taken more than a month after the year-end deal Republicans claim closed the chapter on new revenue.
Twice this Congress, however, House Republicans have refused to allow a vote on the balanced plan proposed by House Democrats -- even though the GOP has refused to offer their own alternative this year. Fortunately, the Senate will vote this week on a Democratic proposal to replace sequestration. Given the similarities between the two, House Democrats stand ready to embrace the Senate plan.
The Senate bill builds on the precedent of balance set in the year-end deal and is in line with the approach favored by the American people.
It replaces the first year of sequestration with deficit reduction evenly divided between responsible spending cuts and new revenue from those who can afford it most.
It calls on the wealthiest Americans to pay the same marginal tax rates on their income that middle-class families pay, and would eliminate needless tax breaks for oil and gas companies and companies shipping jobs overseas.
At the same time, it would cut spending responsibly by reducing direct payments to farmers who have seen record crop yields and prices and by making adjustments to our military for a strong 21st century strategy as the drawdown from Afghanistan is completed.
So this week, Republicans in the Senate and the House are going to have to make a choice.
Republicans could continue advancing proposals that would reduce the deficit on the backs of seniors, the middle class, and the most vulnerable families. This is what they did in the supercommittee and it's what caused us to not get a deal. And it's the same old cuts-only approach that Speaker Boehner and Tea Party Republicans have taken.
Or, they could follow the path they started down with the year-end deal; the path to compromise and bipartisanship; the path to protecting families and communities from the effects of sequestration.
We hope Republicans choose the path of balance and bipartisanship. They know as well as we do how much is at stake. Some are even struggling to find exceptions to sequestration for their home districts. As Senator Lindsey Graham said, "When it's in your state or your backyard, it's devastating."
There is another way forward. We are offering credible, responsible proposals that would meet Republicans halfway. Agreeing on a balanced approach would be the right thing for families, for the economy, and for our national security -- and would move us away from their strategy of governing by crisis and toward a fair, comprehensive budget deal that reflects the values and priorities of the American people.
Follow Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Twitter: twitter.com/ChrisVanHollen