The Common Good

The Economic And Moral Dimensions In Debt-Ceiling Debate

Date: October 13, 2013

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- No matter how one tries to parse it, every economic decision has a moral dimension to it.

Do you shop at Store A, with higher prices, or Store B, which has a reputation for treating its workers badly? Do you put your money in a bank or a credit union? Do you shop local? Buy American?

The same is true with one of the biggest economic decisions the United States has ever faced: Do we increase the national debt ceiling, or allow the federal government's borrowing power to run out Oct. 17? And what are the implications of either choice?

It's a script many Americans have seen before: A Democratic-led White House and Senate, fending off political assaults from a Republican-led House on issues from the "fiscal cliff" to sequestration to the as-yet-unresolved federal government shutdown, with both sides taking matters to the brink. Yet somehow this issue is less about another political rerun than the effects of the choices made by elected officials.

"There is a very ethical and moral concern here," said David Fiorenza, an economist and professor of economics at Villanova University, whose specialty is in public sector and urban economics.

"And it's really people who are in need. People who really do need Medicaid, or because they've exhausted all other possibilities of assistance. Children who still do not have parents at the age of 18. It's a moral duty for the United States to make sure those people are covered every month."

For Alan Gin, an economics professor at the University of San Diego, "the moral equation is if you tell somebody you're going to engage in a financial transaction with somebody, you're going to pay them" -- and that means everybody from debt holders to Social Security recipients.

Religious groups in the Circle of Protection coalition, which includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at an Oct. 9 news conference that they had no idea how the dual dilemmas of the government shutdown and the debt-ceiling crisis were going to play out.

In response, they said members of their coalition would hold a "Faithful Filibuster" and stand outside the United Methodist Building, across the street from the Capitol, and read from the Bible whenever Congress is in session until the issues are resolved.

Kathy Saile, USCCB director of social development, said the Circle of Protection cares less how the stalemate is resolved than that it doesn't target the poor. For the USCCB's part, she added, it would like to see an accord include a more comprehensive accommodation for religious organizations with regard to the Health and Human Services' mandate on abortion and contraceptive coverage.

Circle of Protection members were reading -- even during a steady rain that descended on Washington in the days after the "Faithful Filibuster" began -- from the American Bible Society's "Poverty & Justice Bible" with 2,000 orange-marked passages that make reference to the poor.

At the news conference, the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is executive director of Bread for the World, mused at what politics had come to.

"We could use some supernatural help, don't you think?" he said.