For Bennet, keeping lights on is not enough

DENVER – Higher taxes for some people and further cuts to government programs will be needed in the wake of a deal to keep the country from defaulting on its debts, Sen. Michael Bennet said at a Wednesday town hall.

With Congress heading home for a month recess after the bruising debt-ceiling debate, Bennet hastily arranged the town hall on the shared campus of three Denver colleges.

“We have a habit of not wanting to cut popular programs, and a habit of wanting to tell people their taxes are too high,” said Bennet, D-Colo.

The debate will keep going because, as part of this week’s deal, Congress pledged to reduce the debt with more cuts or tax increases.

The deal secured bipartisan support by pledging $900 billion in cuts over the next decade, followed by steeper automatic cuts to both the military and domestic programs unless Congress crafts a different plan.

Both sides have an incentive to strike a new bipartisan deal, Bennet said, because the alternative of automatic cuts will be a “nuclear bomb that nobody’s going to want to touch.”

But the cuts will not hurt programs for the poor or Social Security, Bennet said. He predicted the retirement age would not rise for most adults, although he said it might for college-age people.

Bennet voted for the debt deal, but he was not jubilant about it.

“The idea that we’ve now reached a place in our politics where merely keeping the lights on is a standard of success worries me a lot,” Bennet said.

Although the crowd was mostly liberal, Bennet took a handful of pointed questions from people who said corporate taxes are too high.

Bennet agreed, but he also criticized the numerous tax exemptions that give some companies a much better deal than others. He pledged to release an “innovation agenda” soon that will include tax reforms meant to spur business growth.

The senator also took criticism for coming home for a five-week recess while the Federal Aviation Administration remains partially shut down because of a squabble in Congress.

Earlier this week, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, voted against raising the debt ceiling, saying in a prepared statement that he wanted more guaranteed cuts.

“The bill simply does not reflect what is necessary to get our fiscal house back in order,” Tipton said.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., voted for the bill.

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