fiscal cliff

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 /

    Chaos Image, © Lightspring /

    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.

    The Case for Fair Taxes

    Photo: Tax forms,  © Garry L. /

    Photo: Tax forms, © Garry L. /

    Earlier this month, I went to vote at our local middle school in North Durham. It was one those winter-tease days, colder than usual, a glimpse of the coming months in North Carolina. As I walked into the school’s auditorium, I was met by poll monitors with visible breath and bundled-up like Ralphie’s brother from the movie A Christmas Story. For a Midwesterner, cold temperatures in North Carolina is a warm day in the fall, nonetheless, it was clear the monitors as well as voters were uncomfortable and frustrated with the conditions. While searching for my name in the voter list, I overheard one monitor pleading with an administrator to get the heat turned on, fearing the cold atmosphere might shoo voters away.

    When I left the facility, I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of the situation. In a crucial election with many issues at stake, including tax fairness, our local voting facility struggled to provide reasonable and comfortable conditions for the voters. It might be unfair to assume that the lack of heat in the earlier morning hours is related to the school’s budget, and subsequently, tax revenue. Perhaps the custodian simply forgot to turn it on. But, as national, state, and local governments continue to cut back on budgets and programs due to the lingering recession’s effects on revenue, the public sector and often those in lower-income neighborhoods are taking the brunt of tax policies and restructuring.

    Take Action: Holiday Thanks and Letters in Solidarity

    Photo: Family holiday meal, © Pressmaster /

    Photo: Family holiday meal, © Pressmaster /

    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.”

    I Have Seen the Problem, And It Is Us

    Photo: Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Anton Oparin /

    Photo: Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Anton Oparin /

    NEW YORK — It's a short walk from Ground Zero to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

    If you're a dedicated tourist, you can see where a terrorist attack occurred on 9/11 and then hop a ferry to see where Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island's oceanfront last month.

    Sad to say, but that's exactly what many tourists are doing. Instead of going to Staten Island to help traumatized residents, they go to gawk. Then they go back to Manhattan for lunch and holiday shopping.

    This is what happens when people lose a basic sense of obligation to one another. It no longer seems sane or necessary to be charitable. Instead, people feel justified in looking away from need. They feel disconnected from neighbors who are suffering. When the storms of life hit, they call themselves “makers” and dismiss the “takers” as lazy.

    George Harrison: From 'Taxman' to 'I Me Mine'

    The taxman, © maximma /

    The taxman, © maximma /

    Winston Churchill famously said, “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.”

    Churchill was out of power by the time his countrymen, George Harrison and the Beatles, released “Taxman” on their Revolver album in 1966. New Prime Minister Harold Wilson had introduced a 95-percent supertax on the wealthiest Brits, including the Beatles. Harrison’s song was and remains a perfect Right-wing caricature of the Left. I can almost hear Bill O’Reilly singing an attack on President Obama’s plan to “ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.”

    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. 

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Catholic Bishops Warn Congress Not to Throw Poor Off ‘Fiscal Cliff’

    Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages /

    Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages /

    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.

    Catholic Bishops Fail to Agree on Statement on the Economy

    BALTIMORE — A divided Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday failed to agree on a statement about the economy after a debate that revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.

    The defeat of the document, titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” followed an hour of unusually intense debate among the 230 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting. It left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.

    “This document is dead,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said with obvious disappointment as he brought the gavel down on the debate after it failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage.