Tom Perriello: Middle-class tax cuts

Last week, Congress completed several pieces of overdue legislation to provide economic relief for the middle class and the unemployed, approve adequate reimbursements for doctors under Medicare, and to censure a senior legislator following an ethics investigation. In the weeks remaining in the 111th Congress, we have an opportunity and obligation to complete meaningful work on job creation and economic relief for working families, on a bipartisan basis wherever possible.

Our economy continues a slow but steady recovery, and we must not let anything happen to stifle the growth. When I took office, we were in the worst economy since the Great Depression. As this term nears its end, we have produced the eleventh consecutive month of private sector job growth. For months, I have said that it makes good economic sense to extend current tax cuts for those in the middle and working class that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Extending these tax cuts will help folks make ends meet and generate demand for goods and services. Failure to extend these cuts could hurt this fragile but real recovery.

Last week, the House voted to make permanent the current tax cuts for any individual who makes less than $200,000, or family who makes less than $250,000. This means that 98.5% of families and small business owners in the 5th District will continue to receive a tax cut on all their earnings. The top 1.5% of earners will still receive a tax cut on the first $200,000/$250,000 of income, but income over that will return to rates paid in the 1990s. This cut averages $1,000 for the typical middle class family.

There is near unanimous agreement on the wisdom of extending the current tax rates for families making less than $250,000, so Congress did the right thing in moving quickly to make these tax cuts permanent. However, there is considerable political and economic division over the wisdom of new tax cuts for top 1.5% that would add approximately $700 billion to the deficit. If the incoming Congress feels strongly about extending the tax cuts for the wealthy, they will have the opportunity to do so in January, but for now we should complete business on those elements on which most sides agree.

Until the job market rebounds, it is also appropriate to extend unemployment benefits to those who are looking for work but cannot find it. I voted again to fund our current unemployment programs, but that measure failed, and approximately 23,000 Virginians are in danger of losing this crucial lifeline over the holidays. The U.S. has never cut off unemployment benefits with joblessness rates this high, and I hope that Congress completes action before the end of the year to help 2 million Americans make it through a tough holiday season.

Our seniors gained an increased sense of security, as well, as Congress delayed for an additional month the scheduled 23% cut to doctors under Medicare. This looming cut has long been a problem and I hope that this additional month will give us the time to find a more permanent solution instead of continued delays. Doctors deserve fair reimbursement for caring for our seniors, and our seniors deserve to know that their doctor is going to participate in Medicare.

Finally, the House took the rare and serious step this week of censuring one of its members for ethical misconduct. During my term, I have consistently supported aggressive efforts to investigate and punish representatives who abuse their office, including some of the most powerful members of my own party. Any violation of the public trust cannot be tolerated. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York has served his country admirably for many years in the Army and in the Congress, but his actions showed a pattern of carelessness and dishonesty. I had previously supported efforts for him to be removed from his powerful position as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. This week, following a lengthy investigation by a bipartisan ethics panel, I voted for an official censure of Rep. Rangel. One of the most solemn duties of Congress is to defend the integrity of the body against transgressions by its members.

Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District in the United States House of Representatives.

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