An important part of the President's remarks to La Raza this week was on the current deficit spending and debt limit debate. This debate is not an abstract concept when it comes to the Latino community, it will have an impact on the life of every Latino family.
With days until our nation faces an unprecedented financial crisis, the President laid out the consequences the stalemate in Congress could have on the stability of our economy. For months, the President has worked to bring Democrats and Republicans together to find a balanced approach to reducing our deficit and ensuring our nation doesn’t default on our obligations for the first time in our history. President Obama, like Democratic and Republican Presidents before him, made clear that failure to compromise and raise the debt ceiling would, in the words of former President Reagan, do “incalculable damage.” In his speech to La Raza, the President turned the topic to the debt ceiling debate and his agenda for the Latino community:
Now, obviously, the other debate in Washington that we’re having is one that’s going to have a direct impact on every American. Every day, NCLR and your affiliates hear from families figuring out how to stretch every dollar a little bit further, what sacrifices they’ve got to make, how they're going to budget only what’s truly important. So they should expect the same thing from Washington. Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to our debt, but both parties have a responsibility to come together and solve the problem and make sure that the American people aren’t hurt on this issue.
So I’ve already said I’m willing to cut spending that we don't need by historic amounts to reduce our long-term deficit and make sure that we can invest in our children’s future. But we can’t just close our deficits by cutting spending. And that’s why people from both parties have said that the best way to take on our deficit is with a balanced approach –- one where the wealthiest Americans and big corporations pay their fair share, too. Before we ask college students to pay more to go to college, we should ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes that are lower in terms of rates than their secretaries. Before we ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, we should ask people like me to give up tax breaks that we don’t need and weren’t even asking for.
So, NCLR, that’s at the heart of this debate. Are we a nation that asks only the middle class and the poor to bear the burden? After they’ve seen their jobs disappear and their incomes decline over a decade? Are we a people who break the promises we’ve made to seniors, or the disabled, and leave them to fend for themselves?
That's not who we are. We are better than that. We’re a people who will do whatever it takes to make sure our children have the same chances and the same opportunities that our parents gave us -- not just the same chances, better chances, than our parents gave us. And that's what NCLR is all about. That's what the Latino community is all about. When I spoke to you as a candidate for this office, I said you and I share a belief that opportunity and prosperity aren’t just words to be said, they are promises to be kept. But thanks to you, we are keeping our promises.
We’re keeping our promise to make sure that America remains a place where opportunity is open to all who work for it. We’ve cut taxes for middle-class workers and small businesses and low-income families. We worked to secure health care for 4 million children, including the children of legal immigrants. And we are implementing health reform for all who've been abused by insurance companies. And these were huge victories for the Latino community that suffers from lack of health insurance more than any other group.
We’re keeping our promise to give our young people every opportunity to succeed. NCLR has always organized its work around the principle that the single most important investment we can make is in our children’s education -– and that if we let our Latino students fall behind, we will all fall behind. I believe that.
In further detail on the debt stalemate in Washington, the President urges Congress to compromise and accepting responsibility to avoid economic instability that would affect all Americans:
So the debate right now isn’t about whether we need to make tough choices. Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need. The debate is about how it should be done. How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?
That’s not right. It’s not fair. We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country – things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.
And keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98 percent of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all. None. What we’re talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade -– millionaires and billionaires -– to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make. In fact, over the last few decades, these patriotic Americans pitched in every time we passed a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach -– an approach that was pursued not only by President Reagan, but by the first President Bush, by President Clinton, by myself, and by many Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. So we’re left with a stalemate.
This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth. It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now. Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake. We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.
There is now less than a week to act, and there are still paths forward. The Senate has introduced a path forward to avoid default, which makes a $2.7 trillion down payment on deficit reduction and ensures we don’t have to go through this again in six months. Serious deficit reduction will require us to tackle tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform, and the Senate plan sets up a bipartisan process to help us get there. The President has told leaders of both parties that they must come up with a fair compromise in the next few days that can pass both houses of Congress – a compromise the President can sign. And the President is confident we can reach this compromise. As the President says, "Americans are fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word. They see leaders who can’t come together and do what it takes to make life just a little bit better for ordinary Americans. They are offended by that. And they should be."
This is a debate that really matters to the Latino community and we can't be on the sidelines. The President wants you to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, say it. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message. The entire world is watching. So let’s seize this moment to show why the United States of America is still the greatest nation on Earth – not just because we can still keep our word and meet our obligations, but because we can still come together as one nation.
Stephanie Valencia is Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.