An Urgent Historic Opportunity to Work for Justice
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the next six weeks. Bad, unjust decisions are possible — even likely! — unless people like you and me demand justice.
That's why the President and Congress urgently need to hear from people who care about justice – NOW!
Why? Because the President and Congress are engaged in high stakes negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" that looms on January 1, 2013. The compromise they reach will have vast implications for poor people, the economy, youth, and seniors for years to come.
What is the "fiscal cliff?" Come January 1, several things happen: 1) The Bush era tax cuts expire; 2) important Obama (2009) provisions helping poorer Americans expire; 3) the "sequester" begins which dramatically cuts discretionary spending and the defense budget; and 4) important long-term unemployment benefits expire.
Most economists agree that if all this happens, the economy will go into recession.
Congress and the President must negotiate a wise compromise. And it must include long-term deficit reduction.
But powerful members of Congress want to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. And they refuse to increase taxes even on people making a million dollars a year.
Here is what we must do. Flood Washington offices with tens of thousands of emails, calls, and letters from citizens concerned for a just solution.
What should we demand? Here are some key biblical principles, a few general criteria and concrete demands. (For a much longer discussion, see Ron Sider's, Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget).
- Persons are created with both an individual responsibility and a communal obligation. Wise, effective government programs are one way we fulfill Jesus' summons to love our neighbor.
- Christians must have God's concern for the poor. God measures societies by what they do to people at the bottom.
- The biblical understanding of justice demands that the able-bodied have access to the productive resources so they can earn a just living. It also insists that those unable to care for themselves enjoy a generous sufficiency.
- Government has a role (not the only role, but a significant role) in empowering poor people (Psalm 72:1 says: "The Lord has made you king to maintain justice.")
- Intergenerational justice is important. One generation should not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.
- Keep and strengthen effective programs that serve and empower poor people.
- Cut ineffective, duplicative, and wasteful programs.
- Everyone should contribute to solving the deficit crisis but those with the most resources should contribute the most.
- We must cut the defense budget as we cut federal expenditures.
- We should adopt a roughly equal (50-50) mix of increased federal revenue and spending cuts.
- We dare not continue indefinitely expanding the national debt. We need a long term solution that ends continuous, never-ending budget deficits.
Powerful members of Congress want to cut effective programs for poor people (eg. Earned Income Tax Credit, Pell grants, child tax credit, economic foreign aid) and at the same time give more tax cuts to the richest Americans and increase the defense budget (even though we already spend as much on defense as all other nations combined!). We can prevent this outrageous approach — but only if large numbers of people demand justice.
Here's what I am going to send to the President, and to my Senators and Congresspeople. Please take just one minute to send your own letter (you can use my words, or your own):
Dear President Obama:
I write to commend you for working right now to avoid the fiscal cliff looming on January 1 and also for seeking to negotiable a long term solution to our deficit crisis. But I urge you do that in ways that are just to poor folk, seniors, and young people.
- Do not cut effective programs that empower poor people. Do not cut food stamps, Pell grants, EITC, the child tax credit, and economic foreign aid.
- Insist that the richest Americans contribute more in taxes to reduce the deficit. Rather than allowing the Bush tax cuts on the richest people to expire, people making more than $250,000 a year should pay at a modestly higher tax rate. Income from stocks and dividends should, as billionaire Warren Buffett says, be taxed at a higher rate than the current 15%.
- As you cut expenditures (yes, that is necessary and I support that), also cut the defense budget.
- Find a way to reduce spending on health care without slashing and vouchering Medicaid and Medicare. The expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is a good, major expansion of health insurance to about 32 million Americans. That must be preserved and strengthened. Vouchering and privatizing Medicare for seniors is not the solution. More wealthy seniors should pay more for Medicare. We must move from fee-for service to a much greater emphasis on preventative care. The law should prevent high non-economic awards in medical malpractice suits because that drives up the cost of healthcare and causes unnecessary, expensive measures.
- Find a long term solution to stabilize Social Security. Do not privatize Social Security. But reasonable changes are necessary to make it sustainable: the age for full benefits should go up slowly; more income should be subject to the Social Security tax; benefits should be reduced for more wealthy seniors.
Ron Sider, President
Evangelicals for Social Action
Again, please, the time to act is right NOW.
(if you want a much longer discussion of these issues read my Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget (IVP, 2012). ESA has also prepared a free study guide to use along with the book either on your own or with your community or church group.
Thank you for your urgent action on this important issue.