USA Today: Fiscal cliff means the rich need to step up by Co-Chair Ellison


Last week, the American people voted for fairness. And with the "fiscal cliff" staring us all straight in the face, fairness must guide our decision-making as a nation. Fairness demands that the nation prioritize good jobs, particularly after a decade of the most generous tax cuts for the well-to-do. Investing in jobs is not only the right thing to do, but it will place America on a path to sustainable economic growth. The best way to be fair to working people, grow the economy, and reduce our deficit is to create jobs.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has a Deal for All -- one that puts Americans back to work. We can address our crumbling roads and bridges and promote education or we can choose to pass more tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of our seniors. We cannot afford the latter. Progressives can only accept a deal from Republicans in Congress that invests in jobs, calls on the wealthy to do more, calls on the military to do more, and protects the most vulnerable.

Our country has a jobs crisis. The biggest risk of Congressional inaction is not that the deficit will increase, but that immediate budget cuts will hurt an already fragile economy, costing more American jobs. After the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, our unemployment rate has finally fallen below 8%. But we still have a long way to go. Middle income jobs, in particular, have been slow to return and more than 12 million Americans are still unemployedAmerica's public workers — teachers, police officers, and firefighters — have had a particularly difficult time finding work. Local governments laid off 7,000 workers between August and September, and further cuts would mean more job losses. As Nobel Prize-winning Economist Peter Diamond said, "We have an unemployment crisis, in my view. The impacts, both on long-term unemployed and young people, are going to affect them for years and years…We have a debt problem. We don't have a debt crisis."

Austerity would plunge the economy back into a recession. Cutting the U.S. Postal Service or local fire departments costs public workers their jobs and reduces private sector demand, causing even more layoffs. In Europe, rapid cuts in government spending have plunged the entire continent back into recession. Great Britain, a poster child for austerity, has seen real G.D.P. since the recession plummet to levels lower than after the Great Depression. Workers in Spain and Greece have had to pick through garbage because of forced government cuts. Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Ohio) prediction that we risk becoming Greece could be accurate if we enact his own proposals to cut services Americans need during economic recovery.

But we don't have to choose between addressing the jobs crisis and reducing the deficit. In fact, putting people back to work will go a long way toward reducing the deficit.

The Deal for All with four basic principles to protect the middle-class and working families.

First, any deal must protect benefits for the millions of American seniors, children, and disabled Americans who depend on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. One in every four families depends on our social security system, including 36 million retired Americans. Making workers wait until they're older to receive these benefits could cost seniors nearly $5,000 a year. And nearly every American senior depends on Medicare to cover health costs. Turning Medicare into a voucher system, as Republicans have proposed, would not only make seniors pay thousands more for Medicare, but leave many seniors without any coverage at all.

Second, an agreement must reform our tax code in a way that asks the most privileged among us to contribute their fair share, and closes corporate loopholes for companies that ship American jobs overseas. If working and middle class people are going to take a hit in tough times, it shouldn't be to pay for tax breaks for millionaires and oil companies.

Third, we must make smart cuts to defense spending, to focus our armed forces on combating 21st century risks. Defense spending has more than doubled in the past 10 years alone. We can afford smart, strategic cuts to outdated defense spending without compromising our national security. Also, we shouldn't fall for the argument from defense contractors and others that defense cuts will hurt the economy. Investing in areas like health care for our seniors and education for our youth creates many more jobs than equivalent investment in defense.

Lastly, any deal must invest in job creation in the near-term. Federal investments were already cut by $1.5 trillion in the first round of deficit reduction – 60 percent from vital programs such as education, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Working families have already pitched in to reduce the deficit –- now it's time for the richest 2% of Americans to pay their fair share.

The solutions are clear. Americans want a Deal for All, not a raw deal. This means good jobs now. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is prepared to stand up for these values.

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.