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Spending debate now front and center

Kansans gathered together during the holidays with hopes of spending time with family and friends, and reflecting on the many blessings we enjoy as Americans. Instead, they were forced to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve enduring the ups and downs of the "fiscal cliff" debate, as the president continued his campaign for higher taxes as the solution to our economic crisis.

Tax increases are damaging to the economy and make it more difficult for Kansans to make ends meet. With the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, Americans were facing more than $4 trillion in tax increases Jan. 1. These increases were bound to affect all income levels. In fact, a Kansan earning an income of $43,000 would have seen a $3,000 increase in their taxes -- $250 every month.

My goal has been to make certain tax increases affect the fewest number of Americans as possible. And while imperfect, I am glad we were able to pass a deal -- the Tax Relief Extension Act (H.R. 8) -- that protects 99 percent of Americans. It also limits the tax increases on dividends and capital gains. Most importantly to Kansas farmers, ranchers and business owners, the deal permanently reduces the estate tax rates and locks in a $10 million per couple exemption. Gone are the short term fixes, allowing people to more confidently plan for the future.

It is important to note this deal only addressed one aspect of the "fiscal cliff." What is missing is the larger and much more damaging problem of government spending. This year's deficit reached $1.1 trillion, the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficit spending. This out-of control government spending has increased our national debt to a record $16 trillion and counting.

President Barack Obama has spent this political season trying to make the case for tax increases on higher income Americans as the solution to our trillion-dollar deficits. But the reality is the tax rates the president was successful in raising Jan. 1 will bring in revenue -- enough to cover our government spending for only 16 days. As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced we reached our $16.4 trillion borrowing limit Dec. 31, Obama's tax increases bought us until Jan. 16, when the federal government is broke once again.

In February, the Treasury Department will ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling for the fifth time since Obama assumed the presidency to allow the federal government to borrow and spend even more money. A debt ceiling is meaningless if Congress simply extends the Treasury's borrowing capacity each time the limit is reached. I voted against an increase to the debt ceiling two years ago and want Kansans to know I will not vote to allow the Obama administration to borrow any more money unless we substantially change the way the government does business and significantly reduce spending.

While some might say it is irresponsible to not raise the limit, our nation finds itself at a point of such indebtedness it is more irresponsible to extend the debt ceiling without significant reductions in federal spending. There is no flexibility here -- our country's future is at stake, and our children's ability to pursue the American dream at risk.

One thing we learned from the New Year's Eve "fiscal cliff" negotiations is our work to tackle the spending crisis prior to the debt ceiling vote must begin today -- it cannot wait until the 11th hour. Americans are demanding Washington get serious about spending; the president must come to the table with Congress now and put courage and common sense before politics.

This means taking action on our nation's real "fiscal cliff" -- the $48 trillion in unfunded obligations found in Social Security and Medicare. These so-called entitlement programs represent promises the federal government has made to Americans, and these promises must be kept. We must work together now to preserve Medicare for America's seniors while sustaining the program for future generations. And, we must adopt a realistic plan to close Social Security's budget shortfall and return the program on a sustainable path to ensure future generations have retirement security.

We have yet to see willingness by the president to reduce spending, but with the revenue debate settled, spending now is front and center. Americans are ready for tough decisions, and they are looking for leadership from Washington.

The grave spending crisis we face will not be easy to resolve, but we were not elected to ignore these problems. We were elected to confront them. The president and Congress must do what Kansans do: Make decisions based on solid values and be held accountable for those decisions. I stand ready to work toward a solution, and I am hopeful the president will join the effort to achieve meaningful spending reform.

Sen. Jerry Moran represents Kansas

in the U.S. Senate.