Budget

Lisa Sharon Harper 11-30-2012
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Soon after George W. Bush won his first presidential election, Washington lobbyist, Grover Norquist, helped craft the tax cut legislation that would go down in history as “the Bush-era tax cuts.” Among other things, the legislation dropped top marginal tax rates from 39.6 percent to 35 percent and was written to expire on Dec. 31, 2010.

In 2010, Democrats tried to put forward two separate packages of legislation that would extend the cuts, first for earnings up to $250,000, then for earnings up to $1 million. The Democratic-led House passed both bills, but Republican filibuster blocked both in the Senate. President Barack Obama resolved the stalemate by extending all the Bush tax cuts for two more years.

Here’s the irony: Republicans claim to hate deficits, but the facts are clear. If extended indefinitely, the Bush-era tax cuts will account for nearly half of America’s budget deficit by the year 2019.

Beau Underwood 11-29-2012
Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

Now that the election is over, policymakers and the media have refocused their attention on the looming budget battles in Washington. In January, a variety of tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect unless Congress and President Barack Obama agree on a plan to avoid what has been deemed “the fiscal cliff.”

As the country braces for another fiscal showdown in the nation’s capitol, here are five things you need to know on the issue likely to dominate the news over the next several months. 

    Amy Erickson 11-28-2012
    Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

    Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

    The book of Jeremiah straddles the most momentous event of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its leaders to Babylon (586 B.C.E.). In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces that God is furious with the people of Judah, in particular its leaders, because they have reneged on the covenant they made with God through Moses. They have not taken care of the poor, and they have not lived according to the stringent demands to worship God alone.

    Not surprisingly, the leaders do not want to hear Jeremiah’s critiques of their ways of doing business. No politician wants to look weak – even before a god. According to Jeremiah, the leaders of Judah have prioritized – not the building of an ethical community – but their own comfort and position. Their desire to maintain their own power and influence has trumped everything. And these politicians have justified their behavior so many times and in so many ways, they don’t even recognize how far they have fallen from the ideal that guided the building of the nation.

    Lisa Sharon Harper 11-22-2012
    Photo: Family holiday meal, © Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

    Photo: Family holiday meal, © Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

    Speaking of the widow’s offering, Jesus says: “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

    Today, families across America will gather round tables full of food. They will hold hands and pray. They will give thanks for the blessings that have come to each member over the past year. Some of these families’ tables will be covered with turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and yams; symbols of abundant blessing. Others will give thanks over Hillshire Farms sliced turkey sandwiches on Wonder bread; symbols of blessing in the midst of hard slog of poverty. Though their tables are bare, their thanks offerings are full of power. For, like the widow’s offering, Jesus reveres the offerings of the poor.

    This Thanksgiving, as your family holds hands and give thanks and as your church packs Thanksgiving dinner baskets, and this Christmas season churches prepare gift baskets for those Jesus called “The Least of these” (Matthew 25:40) we at Sojourners ask you to do one more thing: Take five minutes and handwrite a simple letter to your member of Congress. 

    Jim Wallis 11-21-2012
    photo   © 2008   Krista , Flickr

    photo © 2008 Krista , Flickr

    A lot of ink, pixels, and air have been used on the potential effects of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” While many experts say that “cliff” is a misnomer (it’s more of long slope in the wrong direction), there is at least broad agreement that it’s not the right direction for the country’s long-term health.

    We’ve heard a lot about the potential effects on Wall Street, our nation’s credit rating, and even the military. But little has been said about the devastating consequences for our nation and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — or for the charities and non-profits that serve them.  

    This week, the Circle of Protection, released an open letter to the president and Congress with a simple message: during the holidays, please “advance policies that protect the poor — not ones that make them poorer.”

    the Web Editors 11-19-2012

    Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners, met with President Barack Obama and other key officials at the White House on Friday to discuss the fiscal cliff, and urge a fair budget deal that does not harm the poor and vulnarable. After the meeting, he sat down with Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation to talk about the results of the meeting. 

    Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock.com

    Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock.com

    BALTIMORE — As Congress embarks on high-stakes budget negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are warning elected officials not to target programs for the poor and instead raise taxes and reduce defense spending.

    “In developing frameworks for future budgets, Congress should not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to the House and Senate.

    Blaire and Pates chair the bishops' committees on domestic and international issues, and the letter asks that “poverty-focused international assistance programs” also be spared because they are a small slice of the budget pie, are effective and enjoy bipartisan support.

    Heather Boushey 11-02-2012

    We know how policymakers can fight unemployment. They're just not doing it.

    Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

    Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

    When we listen to political debates about which public policies will strengthen the economy, it is easy to get lost in a statistical maze. Each side presents economic data in a way that supports their own theory of the case.

    The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a branch of the Library of Congress that can help us make our own assessments regarding public policy. According to the CRS website, its purpose is to provide “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress. 

    The relationship between tax rates and the economy is an issue in the current campaign. Thinking about this issue, the CRS looks at empirical data that may or may not confirm theoretical models or ideological assumptions. Thus, like the early TV detective Joe Friday, they want “just the facts ma’am,” and then they try to reach conclusion from these facts.

    Christian Piatt 8-15-2012
    photo   © 2009   Clementine Gallot , Flickr / Wylio.com

    photo © 2009 Clementine Gallot , Flickr / Wylio.com

    I’ve said before that privilege often is invisible until you don’t have it. So in that light, I’m doing a little experiment in a few days with our family, and I encourage you to join in.

    A lot of us never know what it’s like to try and live below the poverty line, and I tend to think the statements we hear about the poor that lack sensitivity for their situation point to this. It’s easy to say things like, “people on public assistance are lazy” (in fact, 47 percent of SNAP recipients are under 18; a majority of the remaining recipients have other income from work, and this doesn’t account for seniors and those who are disabled) and that food stamps are a “free ride” that are so attractive, it keeps people from wanting to work and get off of the assistance.

    So let’s find out just how easy it is.

    “SNAP” stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” which is the new name for food stamps. Basically, families receive $4 a day per family member to cover food costs, so the SNAP challenge is pretty simple (in theory, at least): Live on the same amount with your family for a week.

    the Web Editors 8-14-2012
     Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

    Sister Simone Campbell on Capitol Hill calling for a 'faithful budget.' Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

    Sister Simone Campbell sat down with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly to discuss her organization's push for a faithful budget.

    Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, recently invited presidential candidate Mitt Romney to join the Nuns on the Bus in some of their charitable work with the poor. 

     

    James Colten 7-26-2012
    Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) at a May news conference. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    A few weeks ago, members of the House spoke out against the House Agriculture Committee’s vote to cut SNAP benefits to working class Americans. On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) rallied on the Senate-side to restore balance to the budget debate and avoid sequestration in conjunction with a report on the effects of such cuts.

    The premise of the current debate is that all the cuts have to come from the non-military, discretionary budget. Harkin reported that since we last had a balanced budget (Clinton-era), discretionary funds have risen 0 percent as opposed to a 73 percent increase in the Pentagon budget.

    We have two sets of rules, he said. One set for the rich, and another set for the rest of America. This equals out to tax cuts for the rich and budget cuts for the poor and middle class.

    James Colten 6-28-2012

    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.

    Christian Piatt 5-27-2012

    I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m a big, fat fake. But at least I’m in good company.

    Amy’s birthday was last Sunday. We had just arrived in Portland, so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant, situated several hundred feet above the skyline, with a view of the entire surrounding city, the Willamette River and Mount Hood. We shared a bottle of wine, enjoyed outstanding service and indulged on gourmet food to celebrate her ever-growing tenure as an occupant of our planet.

    The bill for the night was nearly enough to cover groceries for our family for up to two weeks.

    We could manage it; we knew it was pricey before we got there. And it was fairly easy to justify too. We were making memories. It was an other step in the courtship, helping us fall in love with our new city. We had worked hard over the past eight years, establishing a church in Colorado, struggling to pay bills at times, and we’re now enjoying some material fruits of our labor.

    What bullshit.

    Seriously, how does anyone really justify spending that kind of money on one meal? After all, from our vantage point on the 30th floor, I could see scads of people below, standing on street corners, tucked in under sleeping bags and beneath cardboard boxes, walking wearily from one job to the next, hoping to pull together enough to make rent.

    the Web Editors 5-21-2012

    House budget chairman Paul Ryan and Senate assistant majority leader Dick Durbin discuss debt challenges and austerity on Meet The Press over the weekend.

    According to Ryan: "The whole premise of our budget is to preempt austerity by getting our borrowing under control, having tax reform for economic growth, and preventing Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid from going bankrupt."

    Politico reports that Ryan's argument follows Republican arguement that cutting those programs now will prevent future economic hardship, and later on, save them.

    Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    QR Blog Editor 5-08-2012

    Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities takes a look at the economic situation for The Huffington Post and asks:

    "Why are advanced economies so seemingly immune to correct diagnosis and prescription? Why are we applying leeches instead of the contemporary medicine of combined monetary and fiscal stimulus in order to once and for all hit the escape velocity that's eluded us thus far?"

    Take a look at his answers here

    the Web Editors 5-02-2012

    "As Jesus said, 'Tough love your neighbor as yourself...get your own loaves and fishes.'" ~ Stephen Colbert

    More from Colbert and Georgetown's Father Thomas Reese inside the blog.

    Duane Shank 4-19-2012

     

    Under a mandate from the budget resolution passed by the House in March, committees are required to cut discretionary programs to avoid the automatic cuts in military spending to take effect in January. The funds cut are to be moved from the nondefense to the defense categories in the budget. Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee produced its share by cutting $33 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).

    Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Committee had this response: “You can’t have a serious conversation about getting the budget under control when you take large items like defense off the table, which is really why we are here. Taking a meat-ax to nutrition programs that feed millions of working families in this country in order to avoid defense cuts is not a serious way to achieve deficit reduction.” 

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a cut this large would result in 2 million people losing benefits and the remaining 44 million having theirs reduced.  So here’s the equation, more hungry people = more weapons for war.  It’s clear and direct.

    Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

    Timothy King 4-18-2012

    Melissa Boteach of Half-in-Ten—the campaign to cut poverty in half in 10 years—is using the Katniss defense against the Ryan budget cuts.

    The world that Suzanne Collins paints in the The Hunger Games is one in which only the strong survive. Those that can’t keep up are cut out, kind of like the Ryan budget.

    One of the radical things about the ethical agenda that Jesus promoted was the place he offered to the sick, the weak and the weary. He flipped common understanding of who was “deserving” and who was “undeserving” upside down.

    The Catholic Bishops have now come out with their concerns about the Ryan budget and how it abandons the poor and the hungry. Take a look at Melissa’s chart, what do you think?

    Half-in-ten

    Lisa Sharon Harper 3-12-2012
    Fixing the Moral Deficit, YouTube.com screenshot, InterVarsity Press

    Fixing the Moral Deficit, YouTube.com screenshot, InterVarsity Press

    Rep. Paul Ryan’s (Chairman of House Budget Committee) FY2012 plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, garnered princely praise in early April 2011, but it was quickly trailed by intense scrutiny when Ryan’s botched math and skewed priorities became apparent upon his budget’s review. Hailed as visionary and courageous upon submission, Ryan’s budget plan ultimately revealed his ideologically entrenched disregard for the poor.

    A few weeks ago President Barack Obama announced his FY2013 Budget. Within a few weeks, Ryan will submit his FY2013 budget plan for review. Dr. Ronald J. Sider’s new book, Fixing the Moral Deficit (February 2012), comes just in time!

    Sider has offered practical, balanced, and highly informed guidance for Christian engagement in the public sphere since publication of his first and seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1977). Sider draws from his Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (Sider, 1999) to lay the philosophical foundation for this latest analysis in Fixing the Moral Deficit.

    Sider starts with a simple premise: We have a deficit crisis. We also have a poverty crisis. Together these crises are producing a moral crisis in America.

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