The Common Good

Budget Cuts and Bad Faith

Sojomail - February 10, 2011


"He kissed me goodbye and said, 'Don't be afraid.' Then he looked me in the eye and said, 'You are not my real mother. Egypt is my real mother. I must go save her.' He gave his life for his country."

-- Sabrine, recounting her son Mohammed Badr’s goodbye as he left for the protests in Tahrir Square, Cairo, where he was shot and killed. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Budget Cuts and Bad Faith

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House Republicans announced a plan yesterday to cut $43 billion in domestic spending and international aid, while increasing spending for military and defense by another $8 billion. This proposal comes just months after billions of dollars were added to the deficit with an extension of tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. House Republicans focused in on only 12 percent of federal spending, and targeted things like education, the environment, food safety, law enforcement, infrastructure, and transportation -- programs that benefit or protect most Americans. They also proposed cutting funding for programs that benefit the most vulnerable members of our society, such as nutrition programs for our poorest women and children. We don't yet know all the cuts Republicans are targeting in their proposals, but it's good to finally know what their priorities are.

Under the proposed budget cuts, deficit reduction will not come from the super-rich; it will come from the rest of us. And the poorer you are, the more vulnerable you become, and the more you will pay for the burdens of deficit reduction. For example, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program that helps provide food to hungry mothers and their children faces a $758 million cut. Also, the proposed budget cuts $544 million in international food aid grants for organizations such as World Vision. AmeriCorps, a program that provides public service opportunities for our young adults, would be eliminated entirely. But our military and defense budget, which sends our young adults off to kill and be killed, would receive an $8 billion increase.

It used to be very popular for Christians to ask, "What Would Jesus Do?" They even wore bracelets with the initials "WWJD." The bracelets acted as reminders that as Christians, our actions should always reflect the values and example we see in the life of Jesus. Already, in a first wave of response to the proposed cuts, thousands of Christians told their members of Congress that they need to ask themselves, "What Would Jesus Cut?" They believe, and so do I, that the moral test of any society is how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And that is exactly what the Bible says, over and over again.

I believe that vaccines that save children's lives; bed nets that protect them from malaria; and food that keeps their families from starving are more important to Jesus than tax cuts for the rich; bigger subsidies for corporations; and more weapons in a world already filled with conflict. I also believe that tested and effective domestic programs that clearly help to lift people out of poverty are more reflective of the compassion of Christ than tax and spending policies that make the super-rich even richer. And I don't believe, as the Republicans keep saying, that the best way to help everybody is to keep helping the super-rich. That's not smart economics and, as we say in the evangelical community, it's not biblical. So many of us in the faith community are ready to make a moral argument against the proposed budget cuts to our members of Congress, especially to those who claim to be people of faith.

Organizations like Bread for the World and Catholic Charities advocate for critical nutrition programs that keep hunger at bay for millions of American families. Groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and the Christian Community Development Association deliver crucial health and human services around the country that hold neighborhoods and cities together. Government aid to programs like these is money very well spent, and many would have to shut their doors without it. Government funding is critical to the work that faith-based organizations like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services do around the world to bring millions of children and families out of poverty, and public-private partnerships pioneered by foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that are saving millions of lives.

In Great Britain, Prime Minister Cameron made the choice to delay a costly nuclear submarine program while also increasing funding for international aid. We can do the same. Look to leaders in the faith community to say that the choice to protect the rich instead of the poor in deficit reduction is an immoral one. Taking the cutting knife to programs that benefit low-income people, while refusing to scrutinize the much larger blank checks we keep giving to defense contractors and corporate executives, is hypocritical and cruel. I'll go even further and say that such a twisted moral calculus for the nation's fiscal policy is simply not fair, and not right. It is not only bad economics, but also bad religion. The priorities we are now seeing are not consistent with Christian, Jewish, or Muslim values. And if the super-rich and their representatives in Congress persist in this fight against the poor, they will be picking a fight with all of us.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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  Building a Movement

An Urgent Appeal for Egypt

Today, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is likely to step down. But will he turn over power to a civil authority or to the military? In Tahrir Square, nonviolent protestors are chanting, "Civil, civil, not military!" In this extraordinary moment, it is critical for President Obama to support the power transfer to a civilian leader who is chosen by the people.

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