Second Quarter Publication March, 2012
Advocacy as Discipleship is produced quarterly by the
Office of Public Witness to provide background information to advocates on why we,
as Christian Citizens, engage in public witness ministries.
A Faithful Federal Budget:
Addressing the Needs Deficit
Leslie G. Woods
“Reconciliation...through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples... A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God.” (The Confession of 1967, 9.46)
The federal budget is a statement of shared priorities, our collective commitment to each other, and our contribution to the good of all. Because of this conviction, the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness has joined with interfaith partners in the Faithful Budget Campaign. This campaign has come together to call for a federal budget with integrity and justice, one that will meet the need to address long-term fiscal deficits, while also responding to the already monumental needs deficit created by the recession and decades of growing inequality and neglect of our communities and the created world.
The Faithful Budget Campaign is an interfaith project of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other faith communities, committed to lifting up the voices of the voiceless, even as the national debates over budgets, deficits, and debt, largely leave behind the concerns of the most vulnerable. In proposing the budget priorities that follow, we grapple with the choice between calling for what is possible, given the political climate, and what is necessary to comprise a truly faithful budget that reflects a shared commitment to the common good and stands with those most in need. We identify with the Prophet Jeremiah, who despaired when the leaders of Jerusalem would not heed his warnings and persecuted him. He cried out, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” We cannot hold it in, nor can we abandon our brothers and sisters at home and around the world as they suffer, trapped in the cycle of crushing poverty.
Economic opportunity is a value that defines this nation, but it is increasingly available only to those who are already wealthy. Even before the recession, too many families were struggling to make ends meet; faced with insurmountable odds, they were unable to lift themselves out of poverty. Now even more families are on the brink of financial disaster, many kept out of poverty only by unemployment insurance and other programs designed to meet rising need in times of economic trouble. We believe that the federal budget must not only respond to families in crisis, but must also strengthen our long-term commitment to reducing inequality and income disparity, maintaining a robust social safety net for times of hardship such as now, and reducing factors in the economy and in our federal policies that trap people in poverty in the long run. In addition, a faithful budget must also promote a holistic vision for the future, ensuring health, wholeness, and well-being for the human community and for the fragile world in which we live.
The budget principles that follow represent consensus among the interfaith Faithful Budget Campaign. They are grounded in shared values and convictions that, together, ensure a just foundation upon which to strengthen the economy, our nation, and our relationships with one another. The Faithful Budget Campaign encourages the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to draft a fair federal budget that does not place an undue burden on the poor.
Principles of a Faithful Budget
“Priorities for a Faithful Federal Budget:
Acting with Mercy and Justice as One Nation under God”
Restoring Economic Opportunity: The opportunity to work hard and improve one’s economic condition is a value that defines this nation. But it is a reality increasingly available only to those who are already wealthy. We believe in the inherent worth of every individual and that God intends dignity, health, and wholeness for each person. We need an economy that empowers workers to self sufficiency and provides pathways out of poverty. The principles of “liberty and justice for all”, as enshrined in our Pledge of Allegiance, seem hollow in light of the pace at which wealth and opportunity have shifted from the many to the few. We believe that everyone deserves equal opportunity and must therefore have equal access to the building blocks for success. We urge Congress to make the long-term investments needed to sustain the United States’ economic renewal, create economic opportunity for all, and work toward ending poverty. This requires investments in high-quality, affordable education, sustainable jobs with living wages, and policies that help families to build assets.
Ensuring Adequate Resources for Shared Priorities: From the time a federal income tax was established, the concept of a progressive tax system, based on the ability to pay, has been widely accepted as fair and equitable. Over the last several decades our tax system has grown less progressive, and now frequently places more of a tax burden, as a percentage of income, on the middle class than it does on the wealthiest among us. The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education – even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level. A Faithful Budget will act to correct this imbalance. Investment in the renewal of our nation’s economic well-being and protecting the poor and vulnerable will itself serve to reduce the long-term deficit. Such investment should be financed through an equitable tax system founded on fairness, where those who have reaped extraordinary benefits contribute proportionately to the good of all.
Prioritizing True Human Security: With well over half of the discretionary budget dedicated to military spending, the United States is unable to invest in other areas that build substantial human security in our communities. Global threats to peace and security need not instill a national inclination to make an imbalanced investment in new weapons systems, detention centers, and militarized border walls, leading to disproportionate spending on the mechanisms of war and enforcement, while we become less secure in so many other ways. We believe a faithful budget must reevaluate these priorities, increase investment in the areas of health, education, and community well-being that are essential to true security. Our budget priorities should reflect a more balanced approach to the full spectrum of investments that build meaningful security for individuals, families, and communities.
Meeting Immediate Need: As it always has been, the faith community itself continues to be committed to serving vulnerable populations at home and around the world. At the same time, we urge our nation to implement policies that will reduce poverty and hardship. As a united people committed to compassion and justice, we fulfill our calling as a people when we invest in a social safety net that will support the vulnerable in times of hardship, such as recession, unemployment, sickness, and old age. Even as the economy has begun to revive, unemployment rates remain remarkably high. Proactive stimulus policies and the elasticity of the mandatory safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid, are incredibly effective measures that have prevented millions from falling into poverty. Congress has the moral and pragmatic responsibility, even as it pursues long-term deficit reduction, to adequately fund critical human needs, social service, environmental protection, and humanitarian and poverty-focused international assistance programs, all of which ensure human security in its broadest sense.
Accepting Intergenerational Responsibility: We cannot leave our children a legacy of debt, but neither must we leave them a legacy of rising poverty and growing inequality. As educational programs, adequate housing, health care, nutrition programs, job training, and other community services all fall victim to pressures to reduce the deficit, economic vulnerability continues to grow and more families find themselves one disaster away from poverty. Our nation’s vital social safety net did not create the deficit, and the vulnerable populations served by the social safety net
it should not bear the brunt of deficit-reduction measures. A Faithful Budget will seek wise and far-sighted ways to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits while protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Using the Gifts of Creation Sustainably and Responsibly: In the book of Genesis, God called Creation “good.” Because of Creation’s intrinsic worth, the earth and its resources deserve our respect and our consideration. While the earth has been given to us as a home, and while its resources are bountiful and good, we have abused this gift, placing unsustainable burdens on our environment and its resources. As a human community, we owe a debt to our environment, both for its own sake as well as our own. Environmental degradation has substantial, and potentially irreversible, short and long-term impacts, such as rising health care costs from air pollution and resulting respiratory problems; increased premature deaths due to the cumulative impacts of poor air quality; declining water quality in our communities; degradation of public lands; global climate change, which is already affecting some of the most vulnerable populations on earth; and loss of open space. A Faithful Budget must encompass a reverence for our created environment, making choices that protect air, water, and land—the entirety of Creation—gifts from God that must be available to and protected for this generation and those to come.
Providing Access to Health Care for All: As providers of services and care, both physical and spiritual, our members, congregations, and institutions are well‐acquainted with the importance of providing access to health care for all people. All individuals, regardless of their age, income, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, geography, employment status, or health status, deserve equal access to quality, affordable, inclusive and accountable health care. Reducing health care options for some based on any of these factors is profoundly unjust. As we examine the interwoven web of access within the federal budget, there are areas of profound concern for the common good and practices of good stewardship. A Faithful Budget will ensure access to quality health care by investing in wellness and making needed improvements in the health care system.
Recognizing a Robust Role for Government: We are inspired by a common conviction that God has called on all of us – as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society acting together through our government – to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all people. For this reason the faith community has worked alongside the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. People who need help paying rent or feeding their children come to us, frequently as a first and last resort, and we do all we can to provide the aid that compassionate love demands. And yet, faith communities and agencies cannot do it alone. The need is great as many who once gave to our ministries of mercy are now recipients of our charity. We need the government’s continued partnership to combat poverty by providing a truly adequate short-term safety net, and by means of policies that serve to prevent poverty, reduce extreme inequality, restore economic opportunity for all, and rebuild a robust middle class.
As faith communities and Americans of conscience, we stand with those among us with those whose need is great and we call on all of us to act together as the American people with mercy and justice, and to re-arrange our national priorities to focus on the common good. Accordingly, this Faithful Budget boldly proclaims the aspirational goals toward which, we believe, our nation much strive. More pragmatically, we urge Congress and the President to show their intent to move toward these goals by enacting legislation that enhances the well-being of all Americans and to make a good faith increase in funding for the impoverished and the vulnerable here and abroad in fiscal year 2013.
Let us embrace a call to live together in community, not agreeing on everything, but sharing in the common purpose of bettering our nation, protecting our brothers and sisters here in the U.S. and around the world, and sustainably caring for our environment. We call on Congress and the Administration to craft a federal budget that protects the common good, values each individual and his or her livelihood, and helps lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it while shielding the wealthiest from any additional sacrifice.
To learn more about Priorities for a Faithful Budget and to read to complete document, including policy recommendations, visit www.faithfulbudget.org.