The Common Good

An Open Letter to Speaker Boehner

Dear Mr. Speaker,

This past Sunday, you gave a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters annual conference and said that cutting spending is the "moral" thing to do. Yesterday, 28 leaders from Christian denominations and organizations put a full page ad in Politico which asked "What Would Jesus Cut?" and declared that "a budget is a moral document." We said that the moral test of a society is how it treats poor and vulnerable people, but many of the cuts that came out of the House don't pass that test. So what is the moral course here?

Would you agree that a budget reveals the moral priorities of a family, city, state, or nation? What's important as well as who is important and who is less important? Many of us agree with you that excessive debt is a moral issue -- that we should not leave a crushing financial burden for our children and grandchildren. We also believe that bringing our budgets more in line with our resources and reducing the deficit are both good, even moral, things to do. But while we agree that reducing massive deficits is a moral issue, we also believe that how we reduce deficits is a moral issue. Do you agree with that? Who bears the burdens of budget cuts and deficit reduction is also a moral question and choice. Shouldn't the sacrifice be shared, especially by those who can most easily do that?

As religious leaders, we don't believe that our most vulnerable people should bear more additional burdens. Do you agree? Why are there deep cuts in budget proposals to some of our most important programs that prevent deadly diseases among children in Africa and provide critical nutrition for our poorest families right here at home? These are not only cost-effective, but also relatively low in cost compared to massive expenditures in our military budget, corporate tax loopholes, and subsidies to oil, gas, and agribusiness companies -- just to name a few of the things that were protected in the proposals from your House Republicans. Is that fair? Is that right? Is that moral?

Mr. Speaker, do you really believe that every weapons system and line item of spending in the military budget is necessary to keep us safe? That every dollar sent to defense contractors is more important than money for bed nets to prevent malaria or vaccinations to save lives in the world's poorest places or for early childhood development and good education in our nation's poorest neighborhoods? And should teachers, police officers, and firefighters bear heavier burdens than bankers, corporate CEO's, and hedge fund operators in the name of deficit reduction? Those priorities seem backwards to many of us.

But we're glad that you raised the budget discussions as a moral conversation. You are certainly right about that. So let's have a dialogue. We'd love to come see you to talk about all of this. Maybe you could invite the nation's religious and moral leaders into the conversation with the country's legislative leaders. These will be tough choices with real consequences for people's lives. So let's do it right. Let's get everybody involved who can help, and, most of all, let's make this a moral conversation -- as you did on Sunday.

You said, "We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face. That means working together to cut spending." Let's do that. Invite us over to start talking about the moral issues at stake here. We'd love to come and meet you and have that discussion about morality and the deficit.


Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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