The ‘children of light and the children of darkness’ (1 Thess. 5:5) are sharpening their moral rhetoric as the President announces his FY 2013 budget. Getting much of this budget passed is going to be a huge struggle. Each side in the debate over the budget will claim the mantle of the ‘light’ and try to cast the other as in the outer ‘darkness.’ This year, stark moral contrast is not wrong. In my view as a Christian pastor, it is a biblical imperative that these budget priorities the president has set, and more, be passed and implemented.
Now is the time to see the choices for our nation in the clearest possible way. That’s why I agree with Paul Ryan when he said the GOP should not just attack President Obama’s policies, but “sharpen” the contrasts between their vision of the country, and those of the President. “Give them the choice of two futures,” said Ryan. Absolutely. It is critical that that the American public receive the most transparent information and see the real choices.
Here are some real choices:
Do the rich pay more, or do the poor and the middle class? There’s a choice of profoundly biblical import. See, for example, Jesus and the rich young ruler. (Luke 18:18-23)
The president’s budget proposal prioritizes “fairness” on the revenue side as well as cuts to reduce the deficit. This includes the popular “Buffet Rule,” the 30 percent minimum tax on those earning more than $1 million annually, letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for families whose income is above $250,000 annually, and capping itemized deductions for top earners. Taxes will also increase for large financial institutions via a “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee,” and also on the oil, gas and coal industries.
The majority of the GOP candidates, however, would make the Bush tax cuts permanent, reduce (or eliminate per Mr. Santorum) corporate taxes, and some, like Mr. Gingrich would perhaps move the country to a regressive “flat tax” of 15 percent. Then where will the budget “balancing” come from? Will this mean “overhauling” entitlement programs like Medicare, a term that may mean a return to the privatizing of Medicare as came up in last year’s “Ryan Budget,” and cutting deeper into program spending (except military spending)? Much greater transparency is needed here. If this is what is meant, the American public need to see this vision of America very clearly.
How much war do we need?
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” (Matt. 5:9) said Jesus of Nazareth in the first century CE as his country was occupied by the militaristic Roman Empire. And yet, in the last decade we have pursued wars that may end up costing over $ 4 trillion dollars, wars we are now trying to end. So why should we still let our national leaders get away with so much war and war spending in our national budgets?
We already do the vast majority of our “discretionary,” i.e. non-entitlement, spending on war, preparing for war, and caring for those injured in war, than anything else. The 2013 budget proposal, even with mandated cuts, has us still devoting an outsize amount of the discretionary budget to “military spending.” The rest of this part of the budget has to be divided up among education, energy, the environment, and housing assistance, for example. Even worse, the military budget is “still on track to grow, grow, grow,” despite these cuts.
Yet, GOP candidates are all calling for the president not to cut military spending at all. Add to that the heightened “pro-war” rhetoric regarding attacking Iran by these candidates (except Ron Paul) and there is an unholy return to the disastrous idea of preemptive war that got us bogged down, militarily, diplomatically, and financially in the Iraq war. If these candidates get their way, there will be no deficit reductions from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as there will be a new war and they will consequently explode the deficit even more.
That’s the George W. Bush vision of America. The Bush tax cuts and the two wars bought on credit are a huge chunk of the revenue reduction and increased spending that created the massive deficits in the first place.
If you liked Bush’s America, be sure to support that vision.
The poor and the peaceful need better lobbyists
The Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposal isn’t as good as it needs to be, however. It is not the “light” against the “darkness” or salvation by budget priorities. It’s a pretty conservative budget, frankly, and one that does not propose nearly enough cuts in our bloated military spending, and it does only a very modest amount to help those who are still struggling in this economy, and very little to help the most poor. The president’s plan includes $360 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over the next decade, though does not call for “structural reform” of those programs.
The U.S. military budget has doubled in the last ten years. Doubled. There are obviously far more cuts that can and should be made to reduce this obscene amount of military spending, and in the process treat our national addiction to the idea that every problem in the world has a military solution.
We should take the money that we save from war spending and help the poor and stimulate the economy even further to create jobs. The social safety net is in tatters and the jobs numbers are improving much too slowly.
This budget and its choices are biblical choices. Who pays, the rich or the poor? Do we pay for more war, or pursue peace? In the prophetic tradition in the Bible, and especially in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount, there is a strong emphasis on taking care of the poor and making peace not war. In Micah, “Nations will not train for war anymore,” (4:3) and in Amos, a warning to those who “trample on the poor.” Amos counsels those who do not do right by the poor that they should not long for the day of judgment, because “that day will be darkness, not light.” (Amos 5:11-21)
As a person of faith, I believe we should budget according to Amos’ vision: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!” (Amos 5:24)
And if there is no one else to stand up and lobby for a biblical vision of justice and peace in our national budget priorities, then it is up to people of faith who believe in that vision to do so. Starting now.