"Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." - Luke 14:12-14
The Ongong Federal Budget Debate
The Fiscal Year 2015 Budget
In early March, 2014, President Obama released the Administration's budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 covering October 2014 through September 2015. Read an assessment from Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, an organization in Washington, DC, that works closely with the faith community. The next step in the budget process: Congress will review the President's proposal and craft the Budget Resolution, an agreement between both Houses on total expenditures within 12 broad spending categories. More about the federal budget process.
Federal government shutdown. Early Tuesday morning, October 1, 2013, the federal government shut down. Some 800,000 employees were told to stay home and 1 million more were asked to work without pay. More (October 1, 2013)
Budget Impasse Already Seems Likely -- Severe and unnecessary budget cuts proposed in the House of Representatives are unlikely to be approved by the Senate. Then what? (July 29, 2013)
The National Priorities Project has an excellent side-by-side comparison of the budgets proposed by the House and Senate, the President, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The House and Senate approve very different budget blueprints for 2014, setting the stage for further disagreements (March 25, 2013). In mid-March, both houses of Congress approved a Budget Resolution proposal for fiscal year 2014, October 2013-September 2014. These draft Resolutions, an early step in the annual budget process, specify the aggregate levels of revenues (taxes) and spending for the year – without the details that will appear in later budget documents – and may contain proposals related to other programs and policies that impact the budget. These two proposals, one from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the other from the Democratic-majority Senate, display the fundamentally different views of the budget held by the two major political parties. The Budget Resolution is not final until both houses reach agreement on the document and, as you will see, they are currently very far apart. More.
The sequester cuts all categories of discretionary spending. However Congress is allowing a small amount of flexibility within some budget categories so some selected programs may undergo less severe cuts. However, smaller cuts in one area of a budget category must be offset by more severe cuts in another. This does allow some needed flexibility but it also opens the door to abuses. For example, meat packing companies complained that reductions in the number of meat inspectors, as required in the across-the-board sequester cuts, would cause hardships. So within the budget for the Department of Agriculture, money was transferred to reduce the cuts in inspectors. But the money came from other D. of A. programs, including the school breakfast program for poor children, and increased the size of their cuts. The links below lead to reports on the impact of the cuts.
Pain on the Reservation by Annie Lowrey writing in the New York Times, July 12, 2013, describes the harm done by the sequester on some of our most impoverished Americans.
What is the "fiscal cliff?" Before the end of 2012, Congress needed to revise the federal budget to avoid the "fiscal cliff." As originally written, the budget for 2013 called for tax increases and the end of many tax breaks plus huge spending cuts.
In total, the budget deficit would have been reduced by some $500 - 700 billion. But according to numerous experts, such a large reduction in the deficit would have triggered a recession next year. So Congress worked to modify the budget: to continue some tax breaks while ending others, and to delay some spending cuts while going forward with the rest. But the question was: whose tax breaks should be extended and whose taxes should rise? Which spending cuts should be postponed or eliminated? Policymakers’ decisions about these and other budget issues could exacerbate inequality or lessen it, further weaken (or strengthen) the social safety net, reduce (or boost) needed investments in people and the physical infrastructure, and promote military spending over other more pressing needs (or not). Check out the resources on this page for more information.
The founding principles of the United States, declared in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, include not only protection for our people from domestic strife and defense of the nation in times of war but also establishing justice and promoting the general welfare.
While we like to define ourselves by these ideals of fairness and generosity, we have spent much of our history trying to make the reality resemble the words. Today—when millions are unemployed, and when many jobs pay too little to lift families out of poverty while other people have unimaginable wealth and proposals abound to cut taxes for those most able to pay—our society is failing to realize the ideals we proclaim.
Our laws and public policy are the blueprints by which we set up the institutions that allocate people’s chances in life. They can provide opportunity for all, and thereby promote justice, or conversely, they can create opportunity for some and deny it for others.
Reminding us that Jesus calls us to attend to the needs of the least of these, General Synod 25 challenges the United Church of Christ to support policies that serve the common good:
“Our Christian faith speaks directly to public morality and the ways a nation should bring justice and compassion into its civic life. In the story of the last judgment, Jesus tells us that nations will be judged by how they care for their most vulnerable citizens, those Jesus describes as, ‘the least of these who are members of my family.’ This story in Matthew (Matthew 25: 34-35) is not about personal salvation; rather it is presented as a story of the judgment of nations.”
Today we are called to address the disparity between our ideals and the reality of rapidly widening inequality—our poorest neighbors living invisibly and un-cared-for among us.
The Economy -- Where we're at and why the budget matters
The U.S. economy entered a recession in late 2007. While Wall Street has recovered and is once again paying huge bonuses, Main Street continues to struggle. Millions of people remain out of work. Incomes fall or stagnate as prices rise. Record numbers of families continue to lose their homes. State governments, required by law to balance their budgets, are cutting services, laying off workers, and blaming state employees for their financial woes. Corporations are sitting on record amounts of cash but are not hiring nor investing because the economic future is too uncertain.
Going forward, the country has a choice between two paths. On one, we continue to muddle through, allowing the “market” (which brought us to this point) to determine our economic future. This means the unemployed will wait years before returning to work. Budget cuts will deny health insurance, child care, heating assistance, money for college tuition, and other essentials to those most in need.
There is another path. The federal government can intervene and steer the economy in ways that benefit us all and create jobs to put the recession behind us. Here’s a four-part plan.
Stop the cuts in safety net services. Assistance for those who are suffering has never been more necessary.
Create jobs. Millions are unemployed and the situation is dire. Congress must establish a program of job creation. The deficit, which is largely caused by the recession, should be reduced only after the economy is back on a sound footing.
Curtail military spending. Veterans must receive the services they need. But major cuts should be made to weapons systems that are unnecessary or do not function as intended.
Raise additional revenue. The people who have benefited the most from the economic developments of the past four of decades must pay more in taxes. The economy has grown enormously since 1970, but ALL the gains have gone to the top 10% of households, primarily to the top 1%. (Among the bottom 90% of households some incomes have risen and others have fallen but, adjusted for inflation, the average household has slightly less money today than 38 years ago.) The small segment of households at the very top of the income ladder that have seen huge gains can, and should, pay more in taxes.