The Common Good

Let's Get Theological on Health Care and Warfare

100226_091022-164-health-careDid you watch any of the health-care summit yesterday in Washington? Guess what? The Republicans and Democrats are divided and likely can't find any common ground. All the morning press reports suggest that the Democrats may now use the parliamentary procedure known as "reconciliation" to pass a health-care bill with a simple majority and without any Republicans.

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Rather than just repeat the arguments I've made repeatedly about the critical need for health-care reform in this country, and to include the tens of millions who are currently without health insurance (and sounding like a Democrat to some of you), let's get theological. Republicans, of course, have also used reconciliation before to pass measures they wanted-like the Bush tax cuts. So, let's look at that theologically.

First, the tax cuts that George Bush pushed through Congress overwhelmingly benefited the richest people in America-virtually all analysts agree with that fact. But many Americans haven't really calculated that the cost of those tax cuts for the rich was literally double what health-care reform is projected to cost. Double. Yet, there was not even a mention from Republicans, then or now, about the fiscal cost of such enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America. And now they are doing everything they can to stoke public outrage about the cost of health-care reform (even though the Congressional Budget Office says the President's proposal will likely reduce the deficit by $100 billion over the next decade). How does that square with the biblical emphasis on the priority of the poor? There is simply no way to justify the habitual behavior of the current Republican party's clear preference for the rich over everybody else. Probably my best friend in the Congress was Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. The current Republican Party is a very different one than it was in Hatfield's time. I know he would not have liked the "theology" of his party today.

Second, the largest single government discretionary expense is for the military, for fighting wars. Military spending is also, historically, the most wasteful form of government spending with cost overruns, fiscal abuse, political corruption, and shameful pork barrel interests all part of standard operating procedures. So why is there a continual refusal from Republicans to apply their concerns about waste, fraud, and abuse about government expenditures to those expenditures? How does that square with the biblical call to peacemaking and the Christian doctrine that is, at least, suspicious of war as the answer to the problems of human conflict, which should either be outright rejected or very reluctantly accepted as an absolute last resort? There is simply no possible biblical mandate for giving the military a blank check as the current Republicans almost always do now. Again, this would have been bad theology for the evangelical Mark Hatfield, who courageously opposed the war in Vietnam.

This morning, I thankfully boarded a train from Los Angeles to San Diego to finish the last leg of my book tour. In the train station were mostly low- to moderate-income people-who travel a lot by train. As I looked into their faces, it struck me that the current Republican Party is mostly against spending government money that would benefit them, but it has no problem running up enormous deficits when the money is going to the rich or to war. And that is simply not a tenable theological position from a biblical point of view.

Certainly, there are different and legitimate points of view among Christians and others about how best to fix the broken health-care system, and there is no theological mandate supporting only one set of policy options. But the Republican alternative ideas for health-care reform would cover only 3 million more people, unlike the President's plan which covers ten times that many-30 million people. Again, how is that justifiable from a Christian perspective?

Of course, the Democratic proposals fall far short of what a genuine and comprehensive reform of our very broken health care system would look like-much shorter than their term "less than perfect." Their current proposals are, at best, "less bad" than the Republicans', because they are also in bed with wealthy and powerful special interests.

But the Republicans are not being truthful here. They are not really against government spending and for fiscal responsibility. They simply think the government should in its tax, spending, and regulatory policies do all it can to benefit the rich over low- and middle-income people, and to uncritically support the business of war. Again, there is just no way to theologically defend that commitment. Sorry. I am making that as a theological statement and not just as a politically partisan one. Anyone care to provide a theological foundation for the Republican policy preferences for the rich and for war? I would really like to see it.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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