The fiscal cliff compromise passed by Congress wasn't perfect, but it was a step forward for the nation and for Republicans. To encourage economic growth, conservatives like me believe Washington must work toward shrinking the size of federal government by keeping taxes low and cutting wasteful spending. By making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for 99 percent of Americans, this recent deal does more to lower taxes than Republicans have accomplished in more than a decade.
Conservative opposition to this resulted from the misunderstanding that it should have cut spending. This was a tax issue, and the spending debate comes next. By settling taxes independently, this is no longer a bargaining chip for Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to use — as they have in the past — when negotiating spending cuts.
Had Congress not acted or only temporarily extended the tax cuts as in years past, the average Oklahoman would have experienced a tax increase of between $2,000 and $3,500. Additionally, many of our farmers, ranchers and small-business owners would have been forced to close their doors or sell land to afford the substantial death tax hike that has now been averted. Making the vast majority of those tax cuts permanent strengthens the GOP negotiating position, and makes meaningful spending cuts a greater likelihood.
President Obama wanted an unlimited debt ceiling agreement to be included in this deal, but Republicans refused. Had Democrats been successful in keeping the debates over tax and spending policy combined, they would have had the upper hand in future negotiations. In the coming weeks, the president will be forced to ask Congress for another debt limit increase. Republicans, having accomplished permanency in current tax rates, can now leverage the debate to fight for more meaningful spending cuts.
Republicans are now unified around one goal: reducing federal spending. Obama has increased the national debt by over $5 trillion during his four years in office. Left unchecked, he will only repeat this performance in his second term. We can't allow the president's increase in the national debt limit to come without first securing meaningful spending reductions and program reforms that permanently improve the direction of our national budget.
One of my key priorities during this debate will be to secure at least $1 in additional spending cuts for every $1 increase in the debt limit allowed. Last Congress I introduced a bill to replace the defense cuts with further reductions in nondefense spending and with reforms to mandatory entitlement programs. It also redirected additional savings to increase spending on national defense to 4 percent of GDP, which is an appropriate target to maintain our national security advantage.
In the coming months these are the reforms my conservative colleagues and I will be fighting for. And now that the tax cuts have been made permanent, we will be fighting for spending cuts from a position of strength.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator (www.inhofe.senate.gov).