Passing the smell test: Debt reduction guided by Montana values


I believe we have two choices in life: try or do nothing.

For more than two months, I have been meeting with a bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress trying to address our mounting debt. I'm working day in and day out, facing this task with the determination Montanans deserve.

Sen. Max Baucus

This group has been called the "Super Committee," perhaps because of the unprecedented opportunity and challenge before us. But, in fact, we're simply a group of hired hands. Any authority we have comes directly, and only, from the folks who sent us here. In my case, that's Montanans.

More than 1,000 of you have sent in written ideas for reducing our deficit. Thousands more participated in our tele-town hall. Others called my office, and I've talked to many of you face-to-face back home.

Montanans submitted a range of creative, commonsense ideas. But two clear themes showed up again and again:

First, Montanans believe in keeping our word by protecting the promise of Medicare and Social Security.

Richard from Flathead County and Daniel from Missoula are just two examples of folks who asked me to fight for them. As they put it, seniors pay into these programs throughout a lifetime of work, and they count on us to make sure their benefits are there when they need them.

Second, Montanans want a solution that's fair for working families.

Michael from Park County is one of many who said: "DO NOT make the middle class and the poor carry the burden alone."

And Wilma from Silver Bow County told me to keep revenue on the table and, "don't make it harder on the working people in the country."

Montanans are hard workers and straight shooters. They are ready and willing to contribute, but they want a solution that passes the smell test. So, that's what I've been working to deliver.

In October, I helped put together a plan to slash the debt by $4 trillion, in a fair and balanced way — half by cutting spending and half by raising revenue.

I've insisted from the beginning that we put revenue on the table and consider everything through the lens of job creation. But the committee needs seven votes to make a deal, and some folks weren't willing to accept this compromise.

Instead they wanted to end Medicare as we know it and make seniors wait two more years to get any benefits at all. I know this isn't acceptable to Montanans, and it isn't acceptable to me.

So, my colleagues and I went back to the drawing board and offered another plan. We found a way to meet their suggestion dollar for dollar on spending cuts and revenue, while also protecting Medicare and investing in jobs.

Now we're waiting to see if enough folks on the committee will step forward to turn this plan into action.

The final deadline of Nov. 23 is approaching.

I'm still working. I'm still choosing to try. And I'll keep trying as long as there are folks willing to work with me.

Like the Montanans whose words have guided me through this process, I'm willing to compromise on many levels to get a solution that works. I'll compromise on the numbers — and I have. But I won't compromise on my values. I won't compromise on the backs of seniors and working families.

I'm still hopeful balance and fairness will prevail. But no matter what happens with this committee, I'll continue working every day to protect Montana seniors, tackle the tough challenges of job creation and the debt, and do the work Montanans sent me here to do.

(Sen. Max Baucus is a Democrat from Montana.)


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