Do you hear that? It's the sound of silence.
Voters, especially those in Wisconsin who were inundated with non-stop political ads for months and months leading up to the election, are enjoying watching TV again and not having to endure political ad after political ad and the phrases "I am Mitt Romney and I approve this message," or "I am Barack Obama and I approve this message." Democrat or Republican, I think most Wisconsin residents would agree the sound of silence is priceless.
I'm also enjoying not receiving any more telephone calls from Ann Romney, the Barack Obama campaign, Paul Ryan, Tammy Baldwin or Tommy Thompson. My phone is quiet and I like that too.
Whether your candidates won or lost, the election is in our rearview mirror and now the real work begins. Congress and the president have six weeks to reach an agreement to prevent our country from falling off the so called fiscal cliff. If they can't reach an agreement on how to cut $600 billion from our deficit over the next 10 years through a combination of cuts or tax increases, then after Jan. 1 sequestration kicks in.
Specifically, the so-called fiscal cliff includes:
*The expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on income, investments, married couples and families with children and inheritances.
*A $55 billion, 9% cut in defense spending next year and another $55 billion in cuts to domestic programs, including a 2% cut to Medicare providers.
*The expiration of Obama's temporary 2 percentage point cut in payroll taxes which would mean a $1,000 tax increase on wage earners making $50,000 a year.
*The imposition of the alternative minimum tax on some 26 million households, which would raise their taxes by an average of $3,700.
*The expiration of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and a sharp cut in reimbursements for doctors participating in Medicare.
*A variety of smaller tax cuts for both businesses and individuals collectively known as tax "extenders" in Washington-speak. They include a tax credit for research and development and a deduction for sales taxes in states that don't have an income tax.
A Congressional Budget Office study estimates that the fiscal cliff would force tax hikes and spending cuts totaling more than $600 billion in the first nine months of 2013 — or perhaps $800 billion or so over the entire year if allowed to stay in effect. Economists believe going over the fiscal cliff would likely send our country hurtling back into a recession.
The fiscal cliff is the punishment imposed for failure of last year's deficit-reduction super committee to reach agreement after the bitterly-divided Congress and White House failed to deal with the government's spiraling debt.
Many business leaders and citizens are urging Congress and the president to reach a compromise. Is the rift between the two parties as large as it appears?
The American people are demanding that both sides show courage. The key thing I think is for leaders to be willing to not stand in the opposite corners.
This may sound like treason to Democrats, but I think domestic programs do need some reform to save money. This does not mean eliminate the programs or cut them to the point where they are not recognizable. But I think there are cost savings to be found in Medicare. I think wealthy Americans, for example, should be taxed on their Medicare benefits and those making more than $100,000 in their retirement years should pay taxes on their Social Security benefits. These programs were originally created to be a social safety net that provides seniors with health care and income in old age. I'm not exactly sure why someone who has as much money as Warren Buffett or someone who makes $100,000 a year or more when they are retired needs a safety net. I do understand however that all seniors rich or poor need health care. Therefore, I believe people of all incomes should be eligible to receive Medicare. But those who can afford it should be made to pay for part of all of those premiums.
Give and take
I think Democratic and Republican leaders need to:
*Bring down the debt
*Eliminate oil subsidies
*See if we can end the Afghanistan War before 2014 when the war is set to end. That would save $2 billion a day!
*Freeze taxes for everyone making under $250,000. People who make more than $250,000 a year should have taxes increased on the amount they earn over $250,000. I do not see what is wrong with making people who can afford to pay a little more to pay more taxes.
Time is of the essence
The most important thing is to get an agreement signed on or before Dec. 31.
The Senate was able to pass a farm bill last June which demonstrates a willingness in the Senate to get things done. The balance of power did not change in the election. We still have the same president, the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate and the Republicans control the House. Republicans and Democrats are going to have to work together and cooperate. Nobody is going to get everything they want – that's what compromise is all about. Our country's economy and future is at stake.