Why I'm Voting Yes


On Friday, when President Barack Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform gathers to consider a plan to bring our national debt under control, I will be voting yes. It was not an easy decision, and I know my vote will be widely criticized, but I believe it is the right thing to do.

The simple fact is this: America needs to grow our economy and reduce our $13.8 trillion debt.

This plan is not perfect, and it is certainly not the plan I would have written. But it will help put Americans back to work and it will reduce our federal debt dramatically. If we don't act now -- if we pass this issue on to another Congress, another generation -- the tough choices we face now only get tougher.

There are only two honest ways to reduce our debt: cut spending or raise revenues. This plan does both and it takes the spending cuts from the entire budget -- defense and non-defense. We put the cost of wars and natural disasters on the budget. We increase the gas tax to create a transportation fund to honestly pay for roads, bridges and mass transit.

And we don't spare members of Congress or federal employees. Budgets are cut; pay is frozen; and the federal workforce is reduced by more than 200,000 jobs in the next 10 years.

On the revenue side, I insisted that the commission look at our tax code where each year we spend more than $1.1 trillion on deductions, credits, exclusions and tax earmarks. To put it in perspective, those tax expenditures exceed the amount we spend each year on domestic discretionary spending and exceed the total amount we take in federal personal income taxes.

The commission dramatically reduces these tax earmarks and uses these funds to reduce our debt and to lower our personal income tax rates. We restructured critical deductions for health insurance, mortgage interest, charitable giving and retirement credits to make the tax code fairer and provide valuable tax relief for middle-income and working families.

Current income tax rates of 15 percent, 28 percent and 35 percent are reduced to 12 percent, 22 percent and 28 percent. Middle-income Americans will enjoy a much deserved tax cut.

On Medicare, the commission protects this valuable program that more than 40 million Americans count on and reaffirms the cost savings realized by the health care reform law.

Social Security is the most important social program in America. The commission creates an actuarially sound program for an additional 75 years. It increases the minimum benefit for the lowest income Social Security recipients and adds a much needed increase in benefits for those above the age of 85. It raises the retirement age one year to 68, 40 years from now, meaning no one above the age of 28 today would be affected and the retirement age would be 69, 65 years from now. To protect those in manual labor jobs who cannot wait to retire, we create special benefit package that will still allow for early retirement.

Another provision that I worked for makes certain that the spending cuts do not start until 2013. We cannot run the risk of hitting the brakes in the midst of this recession, driving more people into unemployment and shredding the safety net to protect our families.

I also insisted on two things to spark the economy: a payroll tax holiday that can create up to 900,000 jobs and a longer-term investment of $100 billion in infrastructure, education and research and development -- key investments for long-term economic growth.

The question my closest political friends are asking is this: Why is a progressive like Dick Durbin voting for this deficit commission report? First, all politicians, left or right, Democrat or Republican, have to acknowledge the deficit crisis our nation faces. Borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend for missiles or food stamps is unsustainable. And being indebted for generations to China and OPEC does not make American a stronger nation.

When we engage in the critical decisions about our nation's future budgets, I want progressive voices at the table to argue that we must protect the most vulnerable in our society and demand fairness in budget cuts.

My friend, mentor and former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, echoing former Sen. Paul Douglas , famously said: "To be a liberal doesn't mean you're a wastrel. We must, in fact, be thrifty if we are to be really humane."

It's time for all of us to come together to make hard choices. I am ready to do my part.