Budget

Fiscal Cliff: Time to Challenge the 'Mighty on Their Thrones'

Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) speaks during his weekly news conference Dec. 20. Alex Wong/Getty Images

We must be very careful about bringing theological judgments to political ones. Most policy decisions are prudential judgments — compromises between two political parties, neither of which represents the kingdom of God. But sometimes, political ideologies come to a place where they so clearly threaten the well-being of so many and the very foundations of the common good that they must be challenged by theology. This is a moment like that. 

Speaker John Boehner’s tax bill that failed, and spending bill that passed in the House yesterday both fail the basic test of protecting the poor and vulnerable. While it does not look like even the spending bill has much of a future, what it portends for the future of the debate is grim.

Our Fiscal Soul and the Arithmetic of Protecting the Poor

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images

The discussion we are having about “the fiscal cliff” is really a debate about our fiscal soul. What kind of nation do we want to be? We do need a path to fiscal sustainability, but will it include all of us — especially the most vulnerable? It’s a foundational moral choice for the country, and one with dramatic domestic and deadly global implications. It is the most important principle for the faith community in this debate.  

I had a recent conversation with an influential senator on these fiscal issues. I said to him, “You and I know the dozen or so senators, from both sides of the aisle, who could sit at your conference table here and find a path to fiscal sustainability, right?” 

“Yes,” he said, “we could likely name the senators who would be able to do that.” I added, “And they could protect the principle and the policies that defend the poor and vulnerable, couldn’t they?” 

“Yes,” he said, “We could do that too.” “But,” I asked, “Wouldn’t then all the special interests come into this room to each protect their own expenditures; and the end result would be poor people being compromised, right?” 

The senator looked us in the eyes and said, “That is exactly what will likely happen.”

It will happen unless we have bipartisan agreement, at least by some on both political sides, to protect the poor and vulnerable in these fiscal decisions — over the next several weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year, and then for the longer process ahead in 2013. 

But for that to be viable, the arithmetic must work.

The REAL War on Christmas: Congress’ Budget Negotiations


Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his weekly on camera briefing in the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 29. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

There is some good stuff on the God’s Politics blog this week encouraging Christians to drop their concern about the “war on Christmas.” It’s a good idea. However, as we’re getting over our huff about “Happy Holidays,” we’d like to shift your attention to the real war on Christmas: the priorities of Washington politicians that are fundamentally at odds with the hope, love, joy, and peace celebrated by Christians during the Advent season.

As political leaders engage in negotiations to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” we need them to preserve programs that reduce poverty and keep our families healthy. Unfortunately, House Speaker John Boehner and others in Congress are pushing to cut programs for the poor and vulnerable, while protecting tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

Grover’s Gofers: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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.

Falling off the Fiscal Cliff: 5 Things You Need to Know

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. 

    On Scripture: After the Chaos Ends

    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.

    Take Action: Holiday Thanks and Letters in Solidarity

    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. 

    Dear Congress, This Holiday Season, Don’t Make the Poor Poorer

    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.”

    Jim Wallis Meets With President Obama, Other Officials, to Discuss Fiscal Cliff

    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. 

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