On Friday, I had the chance to sit down with a group of middle-class Americans at a diner in Arlington, Va. Their stories were different, but they shared the same concerns: Money is tight, and a potential tax hike at the end of the year would be devastating for them.
One man told me that his wife recently lost her job, that he had one son in college and another on his way. A higher tax bill would mean he may not be able to pay his mortgage, buy gas or provide for his family's basic needs. Another told me that her husband's small business was struggling, and she feared that a tax hike would deal a massive blow. As she rightly pointed out, when customers see their taxes go up, they can't afford the kinds of services her husband's catering company offers.
These are just some of the stories I heard that day, and they were a reminder of how disconnected the debate in Washington can be from the real lives and real challenges of real people. Think about it this way: Politicians in both parties insist they want to continue the current middle-class tax rates. That's no exaggeration. I haven't heard a single Democrat or Republican say they want to see taxes go up for average Americans. And yet, even though the Senate passed a bill a few months ago to prevent the current rates from expiring on Dec. 31, the House has refused to do the same. Some of the folks at the lunch table asked me how that could possibly be. Let me tell you what I told them.
The president takes reducing our country's deficit very seriously. And he believes we must take a balanced approach to do it. That means building on the more than $1 trillion in spending cuts he's already signed with more entitlement savings. But it also means asking the top 2 percent of Americans to pay a little more in higher tax rates. The truth is, there is no other way to reduce our deficit while keeping our economy growing and protecting the middle class. But some Republicans are dead set against asking the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share, and they're willing to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage to get their way.
Maybe they just don't realize what that would mean for the middle class. If Congress doesn't step up, income taxes on the 98 percent of American middle-class families and 97 percent of small businesses will go up on Jan. 1. A typical family of four could see its taxes go up by $2,200 next year. In Florida alone, income taxes are scheduled to increase for 7.6 million middle-class families. And it's not just tax rates that will go up. Key expansions of the child tax credit are set to expire. Tax credits to help middle-class families send their kids to college are set to expire. Middle-class families can't afford that. And frankly, neither can our economy.
It's simple math. If middle-class families have less money in their pockets, they're going to spend less. It means businesses, big and small, will suffer. Some will have to lay off workers. Others may have to fold entirely. That won't just put a strain on our economy — it will stunt our growth and slow our recovery. And because we're having this debate in the middle of the holiday season, millions of American families don't know whether they can afford to spend what they otherwise would on gifts for their families and friends. That means that every day members of Congress drag their feet, they're creating a drag on the economy.
It doesn't have to be this way.
There are lots of areas where Democrats and Republicans disagree. But keeping middle-class taxes low isn't on the list. So let's extend the middle-class tax cuts right away. The Senate has done its part. As soon as the House steps up and does the same, the President will sign this tax extension into law. It could happen as quickly as this week. And as soon as it does, the American people can be confident that they'll have the money in their pockets that they expect and deserve — and that politicians in Washington can do the right thing.
Joe Biden is vice president of the United States.