IN THE MIDST of the often deafening political rhetoric that dominates our debates in Washington, it's easy to lose sight of the only question that finally matters: What's best for the constituents we represent?

The facts in my district made a "yes" vote the clear choice on the tax-cut package put forward by the Obama administration.

Take Upper Darby, the state's largest township. The working families, blue- and white-collar, will see a 6.3 percent tax increase locally in 2011. Meanwhile, 1,200 foreclosure cases have been brought to my office in the last two years. Gas prices are rising, and seniors face another year without a Social Security adjustment.

Keeping the tax cuts avoids a tax increase for working families beginning next month because of the compromise by the president. They'll see their paychecks increase and be able to better provide for themselves and their loved ones in difficult times.

This deal is also a backdoor stimulus. By extending unemployment benefits (there are 26 million Americans who are either unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for work) and providing a payroll tax cut to workers, we are injecting more money into our economy. This will drive up consumption and demand, and lead to much more hiring.

But the necessity of this bill's passage should not be confused with the outrageous process that brought us to this point.

It doesn't take a career politician or an expert on tax policy to see how we arrived at this stage and that we could have avoided this conclusion.

Good, pragmatic ideas - like on tax policy - have been losing out to the politics of Washington for many years now. We see far too much partisan bickering for the sake of political calculation and not enough principled compromise. Not nearly enough politicians on either side are acting as public servants willing to lose their jobs to do what's right.

Everyone knew the Bush tax cuts were set to expire at the end of this year. The Obama administration and congressional leadership had ample opportunity to bring this issue forward before the election. Congress had all summer and fall to debate an extension.

Preferably, our party would have had the courage of our convictions to make the original stimulus bill as effective as it needed to be, with $200 billion more in targeted tax cuts and credits to spur small-business growth. Leading economists agree that we could have been much further along the road to economic recovery and not need this backdoor stimulus effort now.

I voted against adjournment of Congress every time over the last six months because I felt strongly that we had the duty to stay in session until the taxes issue was addressed.

Now, we were forced into this choice.

The compromise is imperfect, but, at the end of the day, I think of my district. Many of these working families and those who have lost their jobs are hurting. We cannot let them be held hostage because of a failure of leadership on both sides.

IT'S GALLING that we didn't take action until one side threatened to raise taxes on the middle class and the other side avoided the issue until after a challenging election. We should learn the lesson to work together from the beginning for a principled compromise, regardless of electoral prospects. Perhaps we could begin by best addressing the deficit.

Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak represents the 7th Congressional District, but didn't run for re-election to run for the Senate, a race he lost.