On Nov. 6, the American people overwhelmingly voted for a vision of equity and shared responsibility, and for continuing the progress that we, as a nation, have made. How we got in this economic mess is no longer up for debate. Who leads us toward prosperity is no longer up for grabs. The resounding message from voters this election has been compromise -- and whether they can avoid the impending "fiscal cliff" will be the first test for our policymakers.
Last August, Congress tried to tackle the runaway national deficit and passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. That law required Congress to develop a plan to reduce our deficit, but that if legislators failed in this task, the law triggers automatic spending cuts and increases in federal taxes. That's where we are today. If Congress doesn't come together over a plan to reduce the nation's deficit by Dec. 31, 2012, draconian cuts in domestic and defense programs will kick in -- cuts so painful that no policymakers in their right minds would allow the American people to endure the economic hardships that are sure to follow.
Numerous economic projections, including reports by the Congressional Budge Office and the Tax Policy Center, have concluded that the fiscal cliff will mean higher taxes and fewer services for almost every American family. It will mean skyrocketing unemployment rates and a severe slow down in economic growth that will undo any progress made in recent years.
Low- and middle-income families, many of them Asian American, who are already struggling in this recession will have no choice but to face more financial ruin. After all, nearly 11 percent of Asian Americans live below the federal poverty line, and 14 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are straining to make ends meet.
To do nothing is not an alternative. American families will suffer too much. Without a compromise, most households will see a tax hike for the first time in sixty years. Imagine a family of four that makes less than $25,000 a year, having to pay nearly $1,250 in new taxes. Or a small business forced to pay nearly 40 percent in new taxes. Both scenarios are unthinkable. Nearly 1.5 million Asian Americans are business owners, and many have benefited from the tax cuts made by President Obama in the last four years. Additional taxes will only lead to layoffs and furloughs just when small businesses are recovering and the economy is gearing up.
As Congress stares down the fiscal cliff, I hope its members can finally put politics aside and in the spirit of compromise demonstrate true leadership in our country's time of urgent need.
Both sides have signaled that there is common ground to build on, such as making some spending cuts to reduce our deficit and raising revenues that will help grow our economy. The solution falls on the side of a compromise that raises revenues, recaptures the essence of government efficiency and protects America's safety nets for our most vulnerable communities. Communities like the elderly, the poor, children and people with disabilities need access to government programs and other social services to get by.
Congress has 30 days left to act, to find a balanced solution that helps all American working families and requires those in the top percentages of the country's income bracket to pay their fair share. It is time for Congress to listen to the nation's pulse -- a pulse that was taken on Nov. 6 by Americans who voted for policies that balance opportunity with fairness and restraint. Now every American is watching as members of Congress make their decision on the national deficit -- and waiting to see whether Congress will pass this first test on compromise and come up with a real solution.