President Obama has received some unfair criticism for the recent tax deal he reached with Congressional Republicans, and I believe it is time to offer a degree of balance to the public discussion of the last few days.
Let me begin with the reminder that, as a Senator, I was a vocal and determined opponent of the Bush tax cuts. I recall how my former Republican colleagues, at a time when we had finally balanced our Federal budget and were enjoying surpluses, rushed to enact these ill-conceived tax cuts that favored the wealthy while at the same time launching a spending spree that has arguably led to a devastated national economy.
As a fiscal conservative, I left the Republican Party because my former colleagues took a record surplus and turned it into record deficits. I firmly believe that these deficits have brought about our nation’s present economic malaise. Now the Republican Party is intent on continuing the same failed policies of cutting taxes to benefit the wealthy while at the same time placing no restraint on federal spending. I witnessed this reckless behavior throughout my time in the Senate under Republican leadership; I spoke out against it then, and I will continue to speak out against it now.
President Obama has pledged to extend unemployment benefits for those Americans who are suffering most in this difficult economic climate. And here in Rhode Island, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, we can certainly recognize and value the importance of the extension of these unemployment benefits.
Last week, Congressional Republicans tried to repeat one of the most damaging mistakes in recent history as they sought to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. President Obama determined to use the situation as an opportunity to work for a greater, and far more immediate, good, in the extension of unemployment benefits. The president chose to trade a temporary extension of tax cuts for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, and in so doing he has assured millions of Americans continued – and badly needed – economic help during the worst economic climate our nation has faced since the Great Depression. And we will revisit the folly of the Bush tax cuts in two years’ time. That is why, in order to strengthen our economy and provide needed relief to middle class families, I urge Congress to act promptly and in a bipartisan fashion to pass this agreement.