The United States is at a critical turning point. Can we create an economic system that benefits all of us, or will we continue toward economic stagnation with huge wealth for the few and misery for the many? Decisions that Congress will soon make about the federal budget will take us further down one of these paths. It doesn’t look good.
Building an economic system that benefits all of us requires two key strategies: creating jobs to strengthen the economy, and leveling the playing field so everyone benefits from our nation’s growth.
Consider the first strategy, creating jobs. Unemployment is our nation’s primary problem, a catastrophe affecting millions of households. Unemployment and the weak economy plus recovery efforts are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the federal government deficit. (One-third is due to the Bush tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without these factors the deficit would shrink by a whopping 98 percent.) Creating jobs to strengthen the economy is the best way not only to build a fairer economy but also to reduce the deficit. Businesses are not hiring and will not so long as the economy is weak and the economic future uncertain. After government spending puts people back to work, back to paying taxes, and back to buying, then companies will want to produce more and need to hire more workers. At that time, the government can cut back its spending. Now, government spending for job creation is sorely needed.
Sadly, Congress is not planning to create jobs. In fact, according to the nonpartisan, highly regarded Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the planned 2013 federal budget will shrink the deficit so severely that it will cause a recession next year and destroy jobs, not create them.
According to the CBO, to avoid a recession Congress must scale back some spending cuts and continue some tax cuts currently scheduled to end in December, 2012. Although it is good news that Congress is thinking about changing the budget, the details are all bad news because many in Congress want to continue tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and also protect military spending while slashing social programs and core government functions like education, environmental protection, research, and health care.
This brings us to our second key strategy: the need to level the economic playing field. The proposed changes to the 2013 budget would do just the opposite. They would continue the skewed practices of the past that favored the wealthy and would widen the gap between the very rich and everyone else.
Instead, Congress must preserve tax cuts that help lower-and middle-income households, not wealthy ones. Spending cuts should target the military whose funding rose by nearly 50% over the past decade, not counting the billions in supplemental funds for wars in the Middle East. Current plans cut military spending to 2007 levels; these plans should not change. But cuts to social programs and core government functions, areas that have already been repeatedly reduced, should be halted.
We can have an economy that works for all of us if Congress seeks to make it so.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.