WASHINGTON - The Senate returned to the Capitol this month after a turbulent 2012. In the areas our citizens look to us to address - boosting economic growth and job creation, building a foundation for long-term competitiveness, protecting our environment and our national security we overcame some major challenges and made some progress in 2012, but delayed many of the tough decisions until 2013.
We ended the year with a debate over the "fiscal cliff," and while we avoided the potential economic catastrophe of going over the cliff on Dec. 31, we only temporarily delayed draconian automatic spending cuts that will kick in early this year if we can't reach another agreement to avoid them.
One way we can bring down the deficit while avoiding those damaging cuts is to close some egregious corporate tax loopholes.
Sen. Carl Levin
Over the last year, I've fought for changes to bring down the deficit and make the tax code fairer. For example, we should end the tax loopholes and accounting gimmicks that allow companies to give lucrative stock options to executives and stick Uncle Sam with the tab; that allow companies to avoid taxes by shifting U.S. income to offshore shell corporations; that subsidize companies for moving U.S. jobs offshore; and that allow hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than their staff.
Revenue from closing those loopholes will help us preserve programs that support the aspirations of average families. For example, Congress acted over the summer to avoid a doubling of student-loan rates that would have put college - already a financial strain for most families - even further out of reach. We beat back attempts to reduce the budgets for education, research into groundbreaking technology and life-saving medical treatments. We must continue to fight to preserve these important investments in our people and their future.
Of course, for us in Michigan, the continuing renaissance of the domestic auto industry has been vital. Growing auto sales and employment continue to demonstrate the wisdom of the federal investments in preserving this backbone of American manufacturing. Just as important as what's happening on factory floors today is how we're preparing for long-term competitiveness. We need to make sure we build the cars of tomorrow as well as those of today.
The announcement in December that several of our state's companies and educational institutions will participate in a federal research consortium developing next-generation vehicle batteries means good jobs for our people now and in the future. And the continued growth of clean energy technologies - not just as sources for energy, but as a growing business for our companies - underlines the strong steps taken by our entrepreneurs, often with federal support, to build for the future.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I know how important a strong and innovative industrial base is to our defense.
The Defense Authorization Act we passed at the end of the year draws on Michigan's manufacturing, engineering and technological prowess in a host of ways. And in November, my wife, Barbara, and I attended the keel-laying ceremony for the USS Detroit, one of a new class of Navy vessels built to counter the security threats of the coming decades. Hundreds of Michigan workers will help build the USS Detroit and sister ships at a shipyard in Marinette, Wis., just across the state line from Menominee.
That is just the latest chapter in Michigan's maritime heritage, a heritage inextricably linked to the Great Lakes. In 2012, Congress passed legislation I pushed for that could help improve harbor maintenance. The Senate passed a bill I authored to protect thousands of acres of wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and though the House did not pass this bill, I'm hopeful we'll succeed in this Congress.
And as co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, I helped lead bipartisan efforts to ensure adequate funding for Great Lakes preservation and restoration, including programs to protect against invasive species such as Asian carp.
I just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, looking ahead to an important year for our policy in that region. Spending time with the brave men and women of our military is always inspiring. We are on schedule to hand over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan to that nation's security forces. Serious challenges remain, most notably in helping develop Afghan government institutions that are effective and free of corruption.
We face no shortage of challenges entering 2013. I'm optimistic we can meet them. The people we serve expect and deserve it, and our nation's future demands it.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.