Food assistance programs have been helping millions of people get through the recession. With poverty remaining at record high levels, we should be grateful that these resources are available to protect families from hunger.
Unfortunately, some of our nation’s elected officials see it differently. New legislation (H.R 6518) introduced by Congressman Paul Broun and members of the Republican Study Committee targets some of the very programs designed to protect the most poor and vulnerable. Under the proposed legislation, six food programs administered by the federal government would be combined into a single block grant to states.
Does that sound like Washington slang? What it means is that spending on food programs would be dramatically reduced, administration of these programs would be shifted to state governors, and benefit level would likely vary from state to state. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Emergency Food Assistance (TEFAP) would be threatened by this legislation.
Chris Hedges' statement on Occupy Wall Street read in part:
As part of the political theater that has come to replace the legislative and judicial process, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to a $550 million settlement whereby Goldman Sachs admitted it showed "incomplete" information in marketing materials and that it was a "mistake" to not disclose the nature of its portfolio selection committee. This fine was a payoff to the SEC by Goldman Sachs of about four days' worth of revenue, and in return they avoided going to court. CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently not only lied to clients, but to the subcommittee itself on April 27, 2010, when he told lawmakers: "We didn't have a massive short against the housing market, and we certainly did not bet against our clients." Yet, they did.
It was over in less than a minute. Three miles below the surface of the earth near a town in Virginia called Mineral, a fault line shifted. As a result, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake was felt from Georgia to New England and as far west as Detroit. The National Cathedral lost several stone spires, the Washington Monument cracked, and Sojourners' office was closed for the afternoon, as our building was checked for structural damage.
Tectonic plates move beneath our feet in the part of the globe that scientists refer to as the lithosphere. Over the course of a year, an average plate will move as little as 3 to 6 centimeters. The speed of their movement is 10,000 times slower than the hour hand on a clock and even slower than the rate of growth of human hair. For decades, sometimes centuries or millennia, a plate's movement might go almost entirely unnoticed. Then, in less than a minute, the world shakes and everything changes.
The debate we have just witnessed has shown Washington, D.C. not just to be broken, but corrupt. The American people are disgusted watching politicians play political chicken with the nation's economy and future. In such a bitter and unprincipled atmosphere, whoever has the political clout to enforce their self-interest and retain their privileges wins the battles. But there are two casualties in such political warfare: the common good and the most vulnerable.
So how will vulnerable people fair under this deal? "The Circle of Protection," a diverse nonpartisan movement of Christian leaders, has been deeply engaged in the budget debate to uphold the principle that low-income people should be protected. But it is hard to evaluate a deal that averts a crisis when the crisis wasn't necessary in the first place. Over the past few weeks, our economy has indeed been held hostage as politicians negotiated the price of the release. Ultimately, I think most of us wish that no hostages had been taken in the first place, and this was no way to run a government or make important budget decisions.
The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.
But God is watching too.
Our country is in the midst of a clash between two competing moral visions. It is not, as we have known in recent history, a traditional fight between Republicans and Democrats. It is a conflict between those who believe in the common good and those who believe individual good is the only good.
In the face of state and federal budget cuts, many of us have been fasting and contemplating the question: "What would Jesus cut?" In light of tax day, however, we might equally contemplate: "What would Jesus tax?"
After all, a great deal of our budgetary stress is the result of declining revenue, thanks to the economic downturn and decades of tax cuts.
A new report that I co-authored, "Unnecessary Austerity," argues that before we make draconian budget cuts at the federal and state level, we should reverse huge tax cuts for the wealthy and tax dodging corporations.
The Jesus I know would be concerned about the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that have emerged in our communities. He would rail against principalities and powers that rig the tax rules so the privileged pay less.
He would lament the destruction of God's creation through excessive consumption and pollution. And, he would be alarmed about financial and commodity speculation driving up the cost of food and worsening hunger. (In today's world of high finance, someone would be hedging investments on how quickly Jesus could multiply loaves and fishes.)