Today the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) presented a forum for congressional representatives to talk about a more faithful response to the pending sequester this upcoming January.
Sequestration as we know it was meant to be a last resort – if Congress could not agree on a budget, then programs would be cut, or sequestered, across the board. The problem with the current sequestration agreement is that it does not protect programs that affect the poor, uninsured, and unemployed.
Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, says that sequestration presents moral challenges for people of faith. It immorally treats all policy issues as equal. But as people of faith, we know that all policy issues are not equal. In monetary terms, $100,000 of guns and ammunition are just as important as $100,000 of food stamps. We have to view the budget through the lens of how it affects the most vulnerable in our society, not how it affects the richest.
Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) stopped into the forum briefly to share his thoughts (on both sequestration and the Supreme Court’s recent health care decision). He noted that there are two distinct crises happening in the United States. One is a budget crisis, brought on by deficit spending, economic woes, and loss of revenue from tax cuts and subsidies to already profitable fossil fuel corporations. The other is a jobs crisis. He emphasized that more than fixing the budget, we need to get Americans back to work. He recalls way back when 6 percent unemployment was unacceptable.
Even within the budget crisis, the long-term problem is much different than the short-term problem. The long term solution must include bipartisan agreements on both spending reduction and revenue increases. But the short term solution to our economic problems cannot be solved on the backs of the poor and vulnerable.
Sequestration, as Richard Kogan (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities) said, is still much better than the Paul Ryan Budget. But sequestration wasn’t supposed to be the best possible option. It was supposed to be such an awful thought that Congress would work harder to find compromise.
Our job as faith communities is to provide the moral vision for the budget, to hold politicians to the highest standards. It is our responsibility to tell Congress what programs need to be protected in order to preserve the dignity and wellness of our nation’s most vulnerable people.
James Colten is Campaigns Assistant at Sojourners. Follow James on Twitter @JamesColten