11/21/2012 05:50 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff: Maintaining a Circle of Protection for Children, Hungry People and the Poor

Now that President Obama and the United States Congress are redirecting their attention to lingering issues, such as expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the importance of getting our nation's fiscal house in order by finding and agreeing to a balanced approach to deficit reduction, I trust there is a spirit of cooperation and commitment to work together to lead our nation to a fiscally sustainable future that is both fair and productive. After all, this is far too important for the sake of our country to proceed in any other way.

Economists are warning that unless we address our long-term fiscal future, the fiscal cliff we are approaching will seriously affect not just our future economic stability, but perhaps even our national security. We need to right the ship, but we must take the right approach to putting us on a path toward growth and prosperity. As President Obama and the Fiscal Commission have outlined, this approach needs to be balanced.

Fortunately, the tone has changed from the partisan pre-election silly season to a more serious tone of reconciliation and bipartisanship. For now, both revenue and spending cuts seem to be on the table. Hopefully, as Congress considers spending cuts, members will remember the most vulnerable communities and keep them in mind as they negotiate a deal to provide a road map for our economic future. Several of these programs are lifelines to millions of people.

Take for example the food stamps program. In North Carolina, in one of our most populous counties, food stamp use has increased 4.05 percent from 2011 -- that's equivalent to $11.9 million dollars in benefits. With this in mind, Congress should maintain a circle of protection around programs vital to children, the hungry and the poor. Now is not the time to say to the most vulnerable in our society, "You're on your own." Rather, the notion that government is there to do what people cannot do for themselves should be applied in this debate on our fiscal future.

While I am not suggesting that these programs should be allowed to burst our coffers, I believe most reasonable lawmakers understand there will be sacrifices across the board to fix our debt. For me, here is where the rubber meets the road -- to balance the federal budget and ensure deficit reduction largely on the backs of the poor is not only immoral, it is fiscally misguided. If we spend less on school lunches and food stamps to make the numbers add up on an Excel spreadsheet, we will indeed pay much more with poor performance in school and chronic health issues later.

Quite frankly, more attention should be given to the most vulnerable communities where unemployment is higher than the national average and families are struggling -- many of these communities are in the heart of rural America. For rural communities, agriculture, rural development and alternative energy sources are essential to current survival, but will also help these communities thrive. That's precisely why I have been an advocate of passing a comprehensive farm bill ensuring the survival of small farmers and the poor.

We remain hopeful that Congress will work with the president to move our country forward without sacrificing our future, keeping children and the poor as part and parcel to a balanced approach to fix our debt.