fiscal cliff

Debt Ceiling 101: Boundaries and Original Sin

Debt crisis illustration, mikeledray /

Debt crisis illustration, mikeledray /

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.

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical

Government shutdown illustration, Alice Day /

Government shutdown illustration, Alice Day /

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.

On Scripture: How to Survive the Sequester, Syria, and Other Threatening Headlines

Newspaper headlines, justasc /

Newspaper headlines, justasc /

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.

Our Pastoral Letter on the Budget — And My Hope for the Common Good

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in Hart Building on the impacts of sequestration. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

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.

Changing Poverty Into Opportunity: A Moral Cause To Bring Us Together

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

Aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue, Orhan Cam /

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.

The Choices We Face: A Guide for Faith Leaders to the Federal Budget and Tax Debate

The Choices We Face: A Guide for Faith Leaders to the Federal Budget and Tax Deb

The Choices We Face: A Guide for Faith Leaders to the Federal Budget and Tax Debate

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.”

A New Year

vintage vectors / Shutterstock

New Year Poster Background. vintage vectors / Shutterstock

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 Poor Still Can't Breathe Easy Post–Fiscal Cliff

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.


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.