“The Moral Measure of this Budget Debate” Part 2: A Just Budget and Beyond

In light of the current budget/deficit debate and the looming threat of cutting essential services to the poor and the vulnerable the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) have signed on the “Circle of protection” statement. The Circle of Protection is an ecumenical coalition of the Christian faiths that have come together to develop and lobby “a statement on why we need to protect programs for the poor.” This statement is important in establishing an ecumenical moral framework for this debate.

With many Catholic and Christian voices advocating for a position of economic fairness and justice we now encounter a series of counter-argument that conservatives are using regarding their defense for Chairman Ryan’s budget. I have seen a couple of these positions and at best I can suggest that they make some grand assumptions, at worst they use rhetoric to twist and confuse the issue. Catholic presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently went on to defend the Ryan budget at an online conversation with voters. Candidate Santorum provides us with an example of how this budget plan is trying to twist the moral argument.

With regards to defending the tax cut for the wealthy Santorum suggest that there exist studies (although he could not recall them) that arbitrarily say that if people are taxed over a third of their income that they will not be willing to invest their money in a way that will stimulate domestic economic growth. He then goes on to say that this proven fact for stimulating economic growth is a greater value than a perceived notion of promoting
economic fairness. Considering that the tax rate to the wealthy in America have not been lower than 25% since the New Deal it would be curious to see how such an assumption can be considered a proven fact. What we do know is that middle and low income Americans invest their money towards basic necessities such as paying their mortgage or rent and purchasing essential and local products that will keep local businesses operating. Giving further purchasing power to corporations and the wealthy have generally created streams of foreign investments that enhance their own financial gain at the expense of an unemployed American workforce. There are good arguments for lowering the tax rates related to economic growth but such a plan must specifically design a comprehensive policy for getting corporations and wealthy investors (both foreign and domestic) to invest in our own economy growth and not just assume that they will do so.

In that same talk Candidate Santorum goes on to address the concern that some people have about the current lack of basic food and healthcare services to children and how he plans to remedy this in light of his support of this budget. Santorum goes on to respond to this issue by interweaving his support for traditional marriage and argues that by supporting traditional marriage this will remedy the issue of child poverty. I support any
program that promotes the family and safeguards marriage but this position by Santorum is classic red herring argument.

We cannot allow assumptions and rhetoric that seem counter-intuitive to dictate this crucial debate. The Bishop’s and Catholic theologians called on Congress to develop a creative solution that is responsible in both reducing the deficit and protecting the poor and vulnerable. This calls for congress to lay aside all their partisan ideology and work together in a spirit of compromise and mutual respect while letting go of the sacred cows that have severely limited their creative vision. Moving on from Chairman Ryan’s budget we should draw our attention to the work of the Bipartisan Policy Center task force which developed a deficit reduction plan last November under a bipartisan team that came up with some creative albeit challenging ideas. Members of the Brookings Institution were part of this collaboration and they defined their goal in this way:

A fiscally responsible plan must be bold and comprehensive – and involve shared sacrifice by all except the most vulnerable. It must restrain spending across the federal budget, slow the increase of health care costs, reform the tax code and make Social Security strong for the next 75 years and beyond with modest changes to current law.

Members of Congress need to put aside their ideological plan and engage again with the creative wisdom of the group. In looking over this bipartisan plan I see some creative and challenging ideas that authentically lead to a plan that will actually reduce the budget without destabilizing our economic recovery while being attentive to necessary social programs. Jonathan Rauch, A guest scholar for the Brookings Institution, likened the deficit debate to the Israelis and Palestinian conflict. In what he calls “the contours
of a fiscal settlement” Mr. Rauch offers some compromising points that need to be taken into consideration. He suggests that “there are going to be tax increases” and “There are going to be more spending cuts than tax increases.” He advocates for developing a tax reform law that will lower the tax rate and eliminated loopholes as a comprehensive way to increase tax revenue. As for the sacred cows he basically says “We can’t exempt defense. We can’t exempt entitlements. We can’t exempt anything. Not even farmers!”

The deficit issue must also be considered through other policy interventions outside of the budget. We must comprehensively review our military expenditures and consider shifting our effort to reshape our influence on international affairs by transferring part of our extensive military budget over to the State Department and the Diplomatic Corps of the US. Our banks ought to be given every incentive to expend their greatly expanded income by lending generously to small business enterprises and reduce unemployment. The
home foreclosure procedures of these banks ought to be slowed so as to allow home-owners to keep money in their pocket for a longer period of time, to meet living expenses, instead of seeking governmental tax-supported subsidies to meet their necessary expenses while the banks hoard and invest their holdings. The legal status of the corporation must continue to be challenged until the Supreme Court reconsiders its fateful “Citizen’s United” case and recognize that a “corporate person” carries much more influence than an individual person in the election procedure, because of financial resources able to purchase avenues of communication. These are just some interrelated issues that need to
be considered as we attempt to face a new economic future.

The deficit crisis can be seen as an opportunity, a teachable moment that calls us to be open about new ideas and possibilities that our former partisan ideologies frowned upon. The strength of our Republic lies in the capacity that we have in setting aside our differences and listening intently at the creative wisdom that comes from the rich tapestry of our American experience. We do not have to reinvent the wheel since the Bipartisan task force has already given us enough food for thought with this debate. What remains to be seen is the political will and the congressional leadership that will move this process along.

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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