Thursday, June 28, 2012

Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration

Recently, the Office of Public Witness joined with interfaith partners to advocate for a more faithful approach to deficit reduction.  The time is now to share your concerns about the Sequester with your members of Congress! Click here to send a message. 
Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration was released by the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs this morning at a Briefing at the Capitol.  The OPW's Representative for Domestic Poverty & Environmental Issues, Leslie Woods, was co-creator of this document.

Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. – Luke 12:48

Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish: the person who lends money [to a poor person] is greater than the person who gives charity; and the one who throws money into a common purse [to form a partnership with the poor person] is greater than either.  – B. Shabbat 63b

As people of faith, we believe that our economic arrangements with each other should serve to support God’s creation and should help the human community to flourish.  We therefore challenge the current economic reality that traps families in poverty for generations.  The widening gap in income and wealth, as well as the persistence of poverty, especially among children, are inconsistent with God’s intention for this world.

Our community seeks to advance the values of cooperation, social justice, and equal opportunity, while restraining those of greed, speculation, and inherited privilege.  At the root of our economic system must be fairness and justice.  Without these values, our economy is, quite literally, demoralized.  

Crushing poverty in a world of abundance is insufferable and our nation has allowed too much injustice and greed to govern our current economic structures.  Instead, we seek to increase equity and equality in this nation. We are alarmed at the growing economic divergence between rich and poor, creating permanent inequalities that are neither just nor socially sustainable. Over the past thirty years, tax policy has too often been used to perpetuate rather than address these inequalities.  It is our responsibility, both individually and collectively, to respond to those who are in need -- people living in poverty have sacrificed more than enough on the altar of deficit reduction. We need a more progressive tax code, where all members of the community carry their fair share of the responsibility, not only to ensure that we can meet immediate need while simultaneously reducing our deficits, but also to begin to address the astronomical growth in disparity over the last thirty years.  As one of our traditions so eloquently says, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” 

It is from this place of concern for the common good, right relationship, and the just working of the economy, that we seek a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  Sequestration was developed as a backstop – a last resort if Congress failed to act in a more thoughtful and balanced way.  Whether Congress uses sequestration or some alternative as a means of achieving deficit reduction, Congress can and must act in a way that reflects our shared values. There are core challenges facing our nation: rising income inequality, persistent unemployment, historically high rates of poverty and anemic economic growth. These challenges must be addressed with justice.

Therefore, we refuse to accept additional spending cuts to programs that serve “the least of these,” and we support extending the tax cuts for low and middle-income families.  In particular, we support a strong, refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, as they are some of this nation’s most effective tools for alleviating poverty. 

 Our approach to upcoming sequestration needs to be rooted in our values – a balanced approach that addresses the deficit crisis with justice and compassion.  On the one hand, we need to be good stewards of the resources we already have, making judicious cuts to defense, earmarks, and other wasteful spending, while preserving that which is most important for the good of all.  On the other hand, we must increase revenue, in order to ensure that this nation can meet our need to operate a fair and just economy, which serves all of our human community. The nation’s deficit crisis cannot be solved through spending cuts alone – new revenues must be part of the solution. The need is great and the resources are abundant.  The budget choices we make must reflect this reality.

Therefore, we urge members of Congress to enact a comprehensive, balanced, and bipartisan deficit reduction package that:

    1.    Continues the precedent established and maintained for the past three decades – including in the Budget Control Act -- that deficit reduction should not increase poverty;
    2.    Protects from budget cuts discretionary and mandatory programs that make a real difference in the lives of poor and vulnerable people, and preserves the bi-partisan agreement to exempt low-income mandatory programs from such cuts;
    3.    Maintains the integrity and structure of low-income mandatory programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid, so they can continue to serve as effective tools for reducing poverty and countering economic downturns;
    4.    Accounts for the fact that, since 2010, non-defense discretionary spending has already contributed hundreds of billions of dollars toward deficit reduction – these programs should not have to sacrifice anymore;
    5.    Raises new revenues in ways that will allow us to meet this nation’s needs by:
a.       Increasing the progressivity of the tax code;
b.      Continuing current tax credits for low-income working households, proven effective at alleviating poverty and rewarding work, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit;
c.       Generating new revenue with a simpler, more progressive tax code from a broader tax base (including capital gains, dividends, and estate taxes) and increasing rates, if necessary;
d.      Not relying only on anticipated economic growth to generate new tax revenue;
e.       Eliminating tax expenditures not proven to influence behavior, such as subsidies to established corporations that no longer need government support.
    6.    Reduces health care costs system-wide so as to:
a.       Retain and implement the important improvements to access and cost containment strategies enacted in the Affordable Care Act;
b.      Prevent cost-shifting to people who cannot afford it;
c.       Refrain from putting further strain on states;
    7.    Includes significant cuts in military spending as recommended by several bipartisan commissions and non-governmental organizations, such as the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the Sustainable Defense Task Force, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Committee for a Responsible Budget.
    8.    Declines to shift defense cuts to non-defense discretionary and mandatory programs, which have carried the heaviest burden of spending reductions already enacted.

In a time of continuing, deep economic uncertainty, our faith gives us strength to face unemployment, poverty, and anxiety – not simply as individuals, but as a community with an ethical memory rooted in our shared sacred texts.  Today’s fiscal debates not only miss what should be the goal of the economy – the common good – but also, they fail to ensure that the functioning of the economy will, indeed, serve this purpose.  As Congress considers replacing the sequester mechanism, it must pursue a balanced approach that ensures that our collective responsibility to each other can and will be met.




What is the sequester?
The Sequester will enact $1.2 trillion in across the board spending cuts - half of which will come from defense spending and half from non-defense - and is set to go into effect this January, 2013.  If the Sequester goes ahead unchecked, the massive spending cuts will seriously compromise programs that serve those who most need the services of our nation's safety net.