The budget agreement we have reached, and which must yet be approved by Congress, is the equivalent of a fiscal line in the sand. We either make a stand now or we will lose our best opportunity to reduce the deficit, cut interest rates, compete internationally and produce more jobs for our people.

I don't agree with every provision in the package, but here are the simple facts:

A deficit-reduction package should affect almost every citizen, since shared sacrifice must be at the heart of any good public policy. The budget summit package meets this test of equal treatment.

The enforcement provisions in this agreement are the strictest we've ever had. Any taxes raised will truly be dedicated to reducing the deficit, not to wasteful spending.

Soaring medical costs threaten the solvency of the Medicare trust fund. This package attempts to reform Medicare to ensure that the trust fund remains strong in the future.

Defense spending in this agreement declines during the next five years, but declines in an orderly fashion as we sort out our responsibilities in the new multipolar world.

The agreement is the largest deficit-reduction agreement we have ever reached, and it is our best chance to really cut $500 billion from the deficit in the next five years.

Opponents of this agreement argue that either the spending cuts in the package or the tax increases will hurt their parochial self-interest. No doubt that is true; after all, what kind of deficit reduction could anyone produce that didn't affect any group in our nation?

Opponents also argue that the agreement, if implemented, might damage critical programs. We have taken great care to balance this package -- surely, any reasonable analysis reveals that this package allows critical programs to grow but restrains overall spending increases.

Opponents are trying to panic some groups, saying we have "slashed" Medicare. In truth, there are no reductions in care. We are asking those who participate in the program and receive 100 percent of the benefits to increase their share of the costs from 25 percent to 30 percent. Next year that means an increase of $3.60 per month in the premium. We are also asking that the deductible be raised from $75 to $150 over three years.

In addition, the poorest Americans who depend on Medicare would not be affected by these changes, because Medicaid will pay these items for them. Also this package includes $2 billion to help pay the additional Medicare costs of those elderly Americans who live just above the poverty level.

But one thing opponents of this package don't offer along with their criticisms -- any realistic alternatives.

Would they freeze cost-of-living-adjustments for Social Security and military retirees? We did not. Would they tax Social Security benefits? We did not. Would they drop the earned income tax credit for the working poor, which was increased by $5 billion in this agreement?

Does anyone really think that this nation should just allow $300 billion deficits to go unchallenged? Do we merely stand around and watch interest rates rise toward double digits and America's national debt continue to spiral out of control?

This is the choice that Congress now faces: Vote for this deficit reduction package, which truly pleases no one, or vote for nothing, which will be a disaster for everyone.

Is it better that the federal government should shut down, with the catastrophic consequences that would bring, or to pass a balanced deficit-reduction package?

Is it better to slow the rate of growth in some federal programs now, or watch the very existence of those programs threatened in the future?

Congress has often faced criticism because it failed to show courage. Now, the president and leadership of Congress have shown courage, and many special interest groups are outraged.

Either we are Americans together who share equally in the future, or we are nothing more than an amalgam of interest groups that will fight among themselves for short-term gain and long-term loss for the nation. That is really the choice that the next three weeks offers this nation as the deficit reduction agreement is debated in Congress.

All America was moved by the recent PBS special on the Civil War. Americans made the greatest sacrifice of life, property and prosperity in our history for the sake of a stronger and freer future. How paltry the sacrifices are in this deficit-reduction agreement compared to the heroic sacrifices made for the nation a little more than 100 years ago.

So when someone complains about paying a little more for cigarettes or beer, or someone worries about paying a nickel more for gasoline, perhaps we all should reflect on the larger picture -- a stronger, more prosperous future for all Americans.

The writer, a Republican senator from New Mexico, is ranking minority member of the Budget Committee.