As the clocks ticks down toward a federal government shutdown, leaders from the United Church of Christ are making a last-minute push, part of a coalition of faith leaders, urging U.S. lawmakers to take action. UCC activists are adamant that the time has come to put aside the political debates and negotiate an agreement on the federal budget, in an effort to avoid a government shutdown that would impact millions of Americans.
Two of the UCC's national officers, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black and the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, signed on an interfaith letter to members of Congress asking them to focus on their duty and faithfully fund the U.S. government before the Oct. 1 deadline. On Monday, faith leaders reiterated the urgency, calling on Congress to take action before it's too late.
Black, the UCC general minister and president, and Jaramillo, executive minister for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, were two of the 34 names on the letter, delivered to representatives on Friday Sept. 27. For Jaramillo, as she wrote in a weekend commentary, the political posturing over the budget in Washington, D.C. has left her feeling "pretty disgusted."
"The lack of leadership being exhibited by elected officials in Washington, D.C., is frightful," she said. "Our nation prides itself as the most effective democracy in the world that cares for the common good. There is little evidence of those values being demonstrated by those entrusted with making decisions that affect millions."
Policymakers haven't passed a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins on Tuesday, Oct. 1, though Congress could pass a continuing resolution to fund the government based on the 2013 federal budget and buy time to negotiate a full budget for the future.
"Everyone is impacted by this government's inability to act," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C. office. "One of the takeaways that the faith leaders spoke about today was that this is a failure of governance to function as it should, and it might potentially foreshadow other hurdles in the future. We need to call our elected officials to accountability, to good governance and to seek a higher level of cooperation — not the lowest common denominator."
The Senate and the House of Representatives debated their own versions of a bill to fund the government during the weekend, but the sticking point is the House's attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which was passed in 2010.
The back-and-forth politicking is a "reckless" approach to solving the budget dilemma, said Edith Rasell, the UCC's minister for economic justice.
"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare) three and a half years ago," Rasell said. "Since then, the House of Representatives has voted to repeal or defund Obamacare over 40 times. But each time, the Senate has voted this down. This same battle is now being played out again but with very high stakes – the potential shut down of the federal government. This is highly reckless. The House must act responsibly and negotiate a budget agreement with the Senate."
The impact of a government shutdown won't put the brakes on what takes place on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., but according to the New York Times, the average American citizen will likely feel the effects of a shutdown to some federal services and offices. Federal agencies have made plans for "essential" and "non-essential" employees who could be furloughed during a government shutdown.
Here is the full text of the letter signed by Black, Jaramillo and leaders of 32 other religious and non-profit organizations:
As leaders of faith communities and organizations comprising millions of people from all walks of life across our nation, we are deeply concerned by the completely avoidable budget and financial crises we are fast approaching as a nation.
Though Congress must pass the federal budget, it belongs to every American. This common fund formed of our combined tax revenues is designed to support the shared infrastructure, well-being, and long-term ethical values of our society. As people of faith we find it morally irresponsible to blockade the process by which we provide for our nation's shared needs in a bid to force any individual legislative priority.
It would likewise be reckless to propel the United States into financial default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling for spending that Congress has already approved. Shuttering the federal government or defaulting on the nation's financial commitments is likely to reverse our fragile economic recovery, punish the middle class, and deeply harm our most vulnerable neighbors.
Our democracy rests on principles of reason, compromise, and a commitment to the common good. To hold our governance processes and financial credibility hostage to narrow priorities is not only dangerous to the nation's near-term financial well-being, it threatens the very foundations of our democratic process and our capacity to live united in community.
We ask that lawmakers address their concerns through the proper legislative channels. It ill serves our nation and people to stand in the way of funding federal operations or raising the debt ceiling in an effort to block implementation of health care legislation that Congress duly enacted. We ask that congressional leadership of both parties stand strong in opposing efforts to allow the will of the few to threaten the common good.
We commit to keeping you in prayer, asking that God continue to give you wisdom as you faithfully serve our nation during this time when the country most needs your principled leadership.