fiscal cliff

VIDEO: Pray for A Budget Deal That Lifts Up the Poor

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.

President Obama and Speaker Boehner are negotiating behind closed doors, but the details that have leaked are scary. There's a lot at stake, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

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!

McCaskill: House 'Should Be Ashamed' on Violence Against Women Act

Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Sen. Claire McCaskill (left) speaks with Stephanie Cutter and others about the women's vote. Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

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. 

Sharing the Crayons

Photo: Crayons, © Judy Kennamer / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Crayons, © Judy Kennamer / Shutterstock.com

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!  

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.

On Scripture: Who is He? Malachi 3:1-4

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.

... 
Recently, I saw the film Lincoln, and certainly, the parallels between Lincoln and President Barack Obama are easy to see. Played masterfully by Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln is a second-term president who attempts to pass major legislation through a partisan, lame-duck Congress during a time of deep divisions in the country. Newly reelected President Obama faces similar challenges. He is a second-term president who must contend with partisan politics while facing end-of-the-year spending and tax cuts in an increasingly polarized country. Furthermore, Obama has linked himself to Lincoln. For example, in 2007, then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy for president from Springfield, Ill., in front of the Old State Capitol as did Lincoln in 1858. Also, Obama used President Lincoln’s Bible at his swearing-in ceremony in 2008.

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.

Lincoln, Christ, and America's State of Exception

Lincoln memorial, © Mesut Dogan / Shutterstock.com

Lincoln memorial, © Mesut Dogan / Shutterstock.com

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?

The $588 Million I (Thankfully) Didn’t Win

Photo: Lottery ticket, © Sean Gladwell / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Lottery ticket, © Sean Gladwell / Shutterstock.com

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.

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.

Bishops, Families, and Advocates Meet with Congressman to Protect Poor

Photo: People before Politics, Stephen Smith

Photo: People before Politics, Stephen Smith

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.

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.

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