The world as we know it may end on Oct. 17.
This statement seems hyperbolic. It sounds like another absurd prediction of the end times that garners far too much attention from the media. But this isn’t about the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Unless the Congress raises the debt ceiling, Oct.17 is the date that the United States government runs out of money to pay its bills.
The consequences could be catastrophic.
Defaulting on our financial obligations would shatter the global confidence in the U.S. dollar that has made it the worldwide reserve currency. U.S. Treasury bonds would no longer be perceived as safe investments, which means creditors would demand higher interest rates to purchase the bonds because of the increased investment risk. The rise in interest rates would make U.S. debt more expensive to finance, leading to more government spending and slower economic growth. The U.S. Treasury believes a default could cause another recession far worse than what we experienced in 2008.
Of course, this pending crisis is completely manufactured and entirely avoidable.
One of the most depressing things I heard on the first day of the government shutdown was that it was a record fundraising day for both parties. Washington, D.C., is no longer about governing; it is just about winning and losing. But the people who will lose the most during a government shutdown — and then an impending United States government default on paying its debts — are those who live day to day on their wages, those at the lower end of the nation’s economy, and the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like this. And what happens to those people is the focus of the faith community; that is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to them. Faith leaders have been meeting to discuss what we must do in response to this political crisis brought on by absolute political dysfunction
The government shutdown seems to have gotten the attention of the nation. And if this ends in a default on our debt, the potentially catastrophic crashing of the economy will certainly wake us up. The only positive I see in this crisis is that the right issues — the moral issues — might finally get our attention.
Current events, like much about our lives, frequently leave us hopeless, fearful, and uncertain. Religious faith isn’t a matter of wishing away these experiences; it involves perceiving God in the midst of our hardships.
I still remember one Friday night when I, an overly sensitive preteen, made a conscious decision to stop watching the nightly news with the rest of my family. I found what I saw too depressing and threatening: crime after crime, yet another house fire, economic challenges, too much Cold War.
I don’t recall how old I was when I mustered the willpower to face the news again on a regular basis. But a quick scan of the latest headlines makes me wonder why I still subject myself to it: the imminent and potentially crippling sequester, American drones flying in and out of Niger, Iran’s growing nuclear capability, recurring bloodshed in Syria. Maybe I had it easier back in middle school.
The sequester battle is a good but tragic example of how the idea of the common good is failing in American politics. By contrast, the growing bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform is an alternative example of how a moral issue can rise about our ideologically driven politics.
The faith community has stepped into both issues with a call for political leaders to serve the common good. On immigration, political leaders are listening to the faith leaders; on the debates about our nation’s fiscal soul, political leaders need to listen better.
I know I am not the only one who is sick and tired of Washington’s manufactured crises around budget and deficit debates. Brinksmanship has replaced statesmanship in trying to find a sound path to fiscal responsibility. It is time to make the right moral choices that will defend the most vulnerable and pursue an opportunity agenda to reduce the highest poverty rate in 50 years.
Ideological debates over the role of government are the real battle in the nation’s capital — more than the debt crisis. Political calculations about the next election are more important to many of our political leaders than the common good of the country.
It’s just time to move on from the partisan politics that has polarized and paralyzed us for so long — by committing ourselves to moral issues that could and should bring us together. The first will be comprehensive immigration reform, which will change the lives of 12 million people in this country, lift many out of poverty, and help the economy at the same time. This is a clear example of how the faith community has changed, and now come together to become a political game changer in Washington, D.C., at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the aisle.
And it’s time to make another moral commitment in the midst of our growing economic recovery — to include poor families and change poverty into opportunity. Fighting poverty must not be a partisan issue. When we look at both the causes and the solutions, this battle should bring both liberals and conservatives together. Overcoming poverty, by creating opportunity, happens because of three very basic things that most of us can agree on: family, education, and work. All three are crucial and necessary in moving people out of poverty and into opportunity.
Let’s break it down.
For the past two years, Sojourners has been in the middle of every budget battle speaking out on behalf of poor and struggling families and individuals. With your help and support, we made news across the country by asking, “What Would Jesus Cut?” More than 30,000 people joined Jim Wallis in a fast for a moral budget. We’ve run print, radio, and TV ads.
But, this work isn’t over. We need to prepare now.
That’s why Sojourners has teamed up with PICO, one of the nation’s largest community organizing networks, to create and distribute “The Choices We Face: A Guide for Faith Leaders to the Federal Budget and Tax Debate.”
At Sojourners, people are just getting back from their holiday breaks with their families and some will still be out this week. D.C. public schools don’t even start until next week for my two boys.
Of course, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives came back early to avoid sending the nation off of the “fiscal cliff.” For the first time in two decades, taxes were increased for the wealthiest two percent, something most Americans support. And programs the Circle of Protection seeks to protect for the most vulnerable, including important tax credits that have kept millions of Americans out of poverty, were kept safe in the final deal.
The legislators barely succeeded in coming to a compromise but largely avoided the more challenging issues of the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” and an agreement on long-term deficit reduction. The compromise delayed the sequester for two months, which means it will kick in around the same time as an anticipated debt ceiling fight in which Republicans say they will force the nation into default unless they get the spending cuts they want.
As reflected in this deal, I applaud the President's continued commitment to protect poor and vulnerable people. I encourage him to remain steadfast in his refusal to negotiate. However, it remains to be seen whether the President will continue on in his refusal to negotiate on such important matters with those risking our nation’s economic health to advance their own political ideology.
The Nation reports that the fiscal cliff deal is a "mixed bag" for the poor. On the positive side:
The biggest takeaway, perhaps, was for the unemployed: they saw a one-year extension in federal unemployment benefits. Another very important piece of the deal was a five-year extension of crucial tax breaks: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
On the negative side:
The payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire. The double whammy of trying to get Congress to raise the debt ceiling while also trying to keep it from torching the social safety net does not bode well for the poor.
Read more here.
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.
In three weeks, automatic tax hikes and spending cuts will take effect, potentially triggering a new recession ... unless Congress and the President Obama negotiate a new solution. Long story short, Washington politicians want to cut support for the struggling poor, but protect tax benefits for the wealthy.
Cutting programs for the poor, but protecting the wealthy? That's against the very spirit of Christmas.
Speaker Boehner has the power to protect poor and vulnerable people, and he needs to hear from people of faith, especially at Christmas time. Sojourners is calling on Congress and Speaker Boehner to consider the repercussions of their actions. Pray with us as we await this important budget deal.
Right now, this commercial is airing in Speaker Boehner's Ohio district. But we want to spread that message further and ensure everyone in Washington is joining us in a chorus of prayer. Give your year-end gift to help Sojourners get this message out in Washington!
Everyone in the political sphere, on cable television, and most certainly in Washington, D.C., has only one thing on the mind pre-Christmas, and it isn’t the fat guy in the red suit (and/or Jesus). It’s the fiscal cliff.
And while it’s an incredibly important — and incredibly complex — debate, it’s not the only one worth having right now.
There’s this other thing — this thing that has been happening on a bipartisan basis for eighteen years — that is sitting in the House of Representatives right now while our national confidence in Congress sits at about 6 percent, and our senators are filibustering their own bills. It’s the Violence Against Women Act. This seemingly procedural piece of legislation — which usually is reauthorized without question whenever it comes up — is in danger of expiring if the House doesn’t act before the end of session.
“This should not be controversial. This is something that should be capable of passing on a voice vote,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D – Mo.) said on Wednesday at a panel discussion on the women’s vote.
A few years ago, I was in a family restaurant that provides drawings for children to color and a bowl full of crayons. Across the aisle was a couple with two young boys. While the parents put in their order, the boys started coloring.
The boy who appeared to be a couple years younger took a crayon and used it, then put it back in the bowl and swapped it for a different color. The older one went about it differently. When he was done with a crayon, he would set it beside him. Soon, he had built up a stash of crayons, some of which his brother needed for his own drawing. The brother complained, and the mother intervened.
You have to share them, she told the older son.
The boy shielded the crayons with his arm and said loudly, "No! These are MY crayons!"
Is there a parent who hasn t had to remind their children that they re not the only ones who matter?
"They re not your crayons," the mother said. "Theyre meant for you to share with your brother."
That moment has stuck with me as a real-life parable about owning and sharing. I thought about it the other day when I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a minivan that said: Don t Share My Wealth, Share My Work Ethic!
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.
Who was Abraham Lincoln? You may get different answers depending on whom you ask. He is known as the Great Emancipator. He was a self-taught rural Kentuckyian. He was a husband and father. Also, he was a pragmatic politician. The new film, Lincoln, seeks to address this question by focusing on the political struggles for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the last few months before Lincoln’s death.
While it may be easy to see why some people would view the film in light of contemporary politics, Lincoln’s political context and Obama’s are quite different. Facile comparisons between Lincoln and Obama do both men a disservice since they serve in completely different contexts. The Civil War is not the war against terror. The abolition of slavery is not the fiscal cliff. After a point, our attempts to connect the characters and subject matter of the film Lincoln to current events seem rather forced.
I didn’t expect to leave a Friday night screening of Lincoln thinking about Jesus.
And I definitely didn’t expect the link to be an Italian political philosopher named Grigorio Agamben.
But of Lincoln’s many triumphs as an Oscar-season contender, its lasting effect is its surprisingly mature meditation on wisdom, freedom, and the necessity of employing the former when granted the latter.
Watching Lincoln reason aloud his justification for the Emancipation Proclamation, an act he admits to his advisors was dubiously legal at best, we encounter the film’s driving question: in a time of crisis when the rules no longer apply, what kind of moral vision do we want in leadership?
I played the New York lottery for the first time last week.
My $2 ticket didn't win the $588 million payout – surprise, surprise – but it did buy me several minutes of musing, most of it instructive, some of it enjoyable.
I quickly ran out of spending ideas – slightly larger apartment, new computer, clothes for my wife, a car to replace the two we sold when moving to Manhattan. I realized I couldn't even spend the income on a lottery bonanza, unless I started buying things I don't need or particularly want.
In the end, I liked the idea of financial security, but saw little to be gained from sudden wealth. In fact, given the misery that tends to befall lottery winners, I might have dodged a bullet by not winning.
After this brief fantasy, I wondered more than ever why the wealthy work so hard to avoid taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Even though their effective taxes are lower than they were during the Reagan years and far lower than during the great prosperity of the post-World War II era, the wealthy are lobbying fiercely to pay even less in taxes. Once again, they seem willing to crash the government for everyone, rather than pay their share of its support.
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.
On Monday, three West Virginia bishops joined by families and advocates pressed the state's politicians to protect poor and working families — or, in other words, the “least of these” — during budget battles in Washington.
The budget and tax negotiations are complex and important. They're driven in large part by the expiring Bush tax cuts and steep across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in if Congress does not act.
Congressional Republicans have been demanding deep spending cuts in programs, including Medicaid and Social Security. They've also defended tax cuts for the wealthy. A number of religious figures say those priorities are backwards.
Felicia Thomas, 24, director at Fort Hill Child Development Center, spoke at the meeting. Thomas is a single mother of a five year old little girl. Federal programs like Earned Income Tax Credit and child care subsidies have allowed Thomas not only to pursue her dreams of a better future, but also to keep the lights on and the fridge stocked.
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.