My biggest priority for the remainder of the year will be sending the president a comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform package that helps middle-class South Dakotans who are struggling to make ends meet.

According to a recent study, 50 percent of American voters consider themselves to be living paycheck to paycheck, and about one-third of them say they’re just $400 away from a financial crisis. To put it into perspective, it means these folks are one broken refrigerator or unexpected car repair away from a financial emergency. While it might seem small, $400 can go a long way for families in South Dakota.

Living in a constant state of financial fear and uncertainty, like so many cash-strapped families do these days, isn’t how most people purposefully choose to live. The status quo simply isn’t working for many of them, and it’s putting the American Dream further out of reach. Many of these folks are fighting hard to get a leg up, but they feel burdened by a system and an economy that for years has kept wages down and opportunities few and far between.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though, which is why I believe Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help strengthen our economy by reforming our outdated tax code.

I have a set of five key principles that I believe must govern how any meaningful tax reform bill is drafted and passed. The first is a no-brainer. Any bill we pass has to result in increased wages, jobs and economic growth for South Dakotans. It must help people increase their take-home pay and pursue opportunities that will put their family in a better position to succeed, period.

Second, and perhaps just as obvious, tax reform must provide tax relief to South Dakotans. It would be hard to find a South Dakotan who believes they aren’t paying enough in taxes, and Washington already takes too much of what they earn. Congress needs to learn how to spend money more efficiently and let folks keep more of their hard-earned paycheck.

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Third and fourth, we have to create a system that encourages well-paying American jobs to stay in this country, and it has to increase America’s competitiveness in the global economy. A noncompetitive tax code not only discourages foreign companies from doing business in the United States, but it also can encourage some American businesses to move to a country with a more competitive system. We’ve got to correct this, and it’s certainly within reach.

Fifth and finally, tax reform must simplify the tax code, which is far too large and complex. Whether you’re an individual or a small business owner, everyone can benefit from a simplified system that lowers rates and doesn’t stand in the way of a South Dakotan’s ability to succeed.

Guided by these five basic, common-sense principles, which I’m hopeful will enjoy bipartisan support, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to deliver on our promise of creating a system that boosts wages, jobs and economic growth. It would put middle-class families back in the driver’s seat of the American economy. They’ve waited long enough.

John Thune represents South Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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