Like many of you perhaps, last month I watched the CBS News special "People Like Us." In it, Bill Moyers offered personal looks at four families adversely affected by the Reagan budget cuts. The very human stories of these people told it all, without the need for mountains of facts and statistics. Here were people who, "except for accident of birth," said Moyers, "are just like us."
Our community watched the show together that night, and I noticed some tears around the room. The people Bill Moyers introduced to us are much like people with whom we live and work in Washington, D.C.
The stories of ordinary people in the Moyers special made clear what is often hidden in the rhetoric of budget debates: those paying the highest price for this administration's economic plan are poor people. While the administration attacks cheating in the welfare system, Moyers pointed out that in 1981 the Senate Finance Committee reported that the U.S. government lost $95 billion in revenue due to taxpayers under-reporting their income. That figure is seven times larger than the entire welfare budget for the year.
But it is the welfare system and not the military budget or the subsidies and tax advantages for large corporations and the rich that the government chooses to focus on. When the government tightens its belt, it does so around the necks of the poor.
A few months ago I was invited to a meeting on what the church should do to help the poor in this crisis, held on the day of the annual President's Prayer Breakfast (an occasion which I have religiously avoided). Against my better judgment, but out of a favor to a friend, I decided to go.