If you really want to walk off a cliff, cut programs for those fighting to escape poverty in our nation. The debate over the looming sequester -- that odd word that on this occasion holds such deep meaning -- is a moral debate. How the President and Congress ultimately respond will reflect on the morality of the American nation and without firm action the poverty rate, which exploded after tax cuts for the richest Americans were put in place in 2001, will grow even further. Children will feel the pain most deeply.
Two issues are at stake, at least as far as the media is concerned. President Obama is rightfully demanding that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be allowed to expire. These tax cuts set the stage for the economic collapse of 2008. Some GOP leaders are demanding that in return for allowing the tax cuts to expire that cuts must be made in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Reforms that save money in these programs without cutting benefits are worthy of discussion. Any deal that actually cuts benefits would be an incredible injury to senior citizens and those living in poverty today -- many working and playing by the rules of American life but simply not able to get by on Wal-Mart wages.
Also at risk is the basic safety net that literally keeps many of our brothers and sisters across the nation alive during difficult economic times. Some Congressional leaders, for example, are demanding cuts in SNAP (food stamps) during a period of great hunger in America. To allow people to go hungry in the richest nation on earth is nothing short of sin.
What is needed is a principled and equitable deal that protects the "least of these" in society while advancing the common good of all. Not reaching a good deal -- falling off the cliff -- would be disastrous and irresponsible.
The Social Creed for the 21st century, adopted by member communions of the National Council of Churches, reads:
In the love incarnate in Jesus, despite the world's sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of community, by working for:
- Abatement of hunger and poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.
- High quality public education for all and universal, affordable and accessible healthcare.
- An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and old age.
- Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.
- Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers' rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.
- Sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety.
- Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.
These faithful goals which keep in mind the vision of the "peaceable kingdom" put forward by the Prophet Isaiah, whose ministry Jesus is so closely linked with, are all at risk. Falling off the cliff would mean that we would not only stop progress toward these goals but that we would fall further behind as the nation returns to recession and economic turmoil. Churches and other people of faith are going to have to reach out to the president and Congress and demand that programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty remain untouched. We must protect the elderly, those living in poverty, and our nation's children. Our calling is clear so act now.