The first thing the new Pope Francis said to the world in St. Peter’s Square when he accepted the papacy was “I am a sinner.” In a final mass of one million people in Philadelphia, the last words Francis spoke to the American people were, “Please pray for me; don’t forget!”
From the moment Francis arrived to the last event he led in the U.S., I saw something I never had before. For the first time in my life, I saw the gospel proclaimed at the highest levels of the nation—from the White House, to the Congress, to the United Nations, to Madison Square Garden, to Independence Hall, and to Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Simplicity, humility, compassion, grace, service, love, justice, peace, care for the poor, and creation itself were all lifted up in the places where such things are seldom valued or even named.
Politics at its best serves the common good — far above any one interest or political party. And right now in Washington, we see that playing out as we continue to reach accord on immigration reform. But when it comes to our budget debate, partisan ideology and special interests are winning out over the common good.
The ever-looming “sequester” that was never supposed to happen goes into effect tomorrow. Billions of dollars will be cut from domestic and military spending without any plan or strategy; jobs will be lost and people will suffer. Public frustration is growing with our elected officials, while they continue to argue over the role of government instead of governing responsibly. The press discusses who wins and loses in the polls, but it is clear that it is the common good that is losing.
On the other hand, immigration reform is being discussed, at the same time with the same political players, in a very reasonable and hopeful way. On that important policy change, bipartisan work is going forward to shape legislation that could pass both houses of Congress.
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 One Percent. Dear Fork. Budget Cuts. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:
- "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" -- Joseph Stiglitz on inequality in America.
- Dear Fork, You have a son.
- Go inside Prague's off-limits baroque library.
- We're not broke. Not even close.
- Our new and improved Daily Digest from Duane Shank is the best round up of relevant news articles out there. Yeah, I said it: It's the BEST.
- Let's thank our members of Congress for joining the hunger fast for a moral budget. (Call your member and ask them to join.)
- Stay updated on the latest news from the hunger fast for a moral budget.
- Michael Gerson on the real-world effects of budget cuts.
- Watch this CNN report on the hunger fast for a moral budget.