In the coming years, if the recovery speeds up and our economy grows faster than our current projections, we can make even greater progress than I have pledged here. But just to hold Washington – and me – accountable and make sure that the debt burden continues to decline, my plan includes a debt failsafe. If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy – or if Congress has failed to act – my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code. That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.
So this is our vision for America – a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and rising opportunity for our children.
Of course, there will be those who disagree with my approach. Some will argue we shouldn't even consider raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans. It's just an article of faith for them. I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn't be here without. That some of you wouldn't be here without. And I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to the country that's done so much for them. Washington just hasn't asked them to.
Others will say that we shouldn't even talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered. I'm sympathetic to this view, which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December. It's also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit – so that we can keep making the investments that create jobs. But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option. Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don't begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.
Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn't make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security out of a fear that any talk of change to these programs will usher in the sort of radical steps that House Republicans have proposed. I understand these fears. But I guarantee that if we don't make any changes at all, we won't be able to keep our commitments to a retiring generation that will live longer and face higher health care costs than those who came before.
Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have the obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments. If we believe that government can make a difference in people's lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works – by making government smarter, leaner and more effective.