Yesterday, I heard a news commentator advise travelers to get to the airport earlier than normal after March 1. The reporter warned of the inconvenience of long security lines if our elected leaders do not reach agreement about the federal budget. I realize that our federal officials may have already launched us into economic crisis by the time this Witness for Justice goes to press; however, I am writing it anyway as a reminder that democracy depends upon us to raise our voices in protest. What we face is far more than an inconvenience.
At issue are the across the board cuts in federal spending, known as sequestration. This slippery slope toward economic disaster did not just begin yesterday and it won’t be solved by short term, over-night solutions that have become the mode of operation of late. Sequestration, an element of the Budget Control Act of 2011, was meant to provide a way for the so-called “super committee” to reach a deal over a year ago. But it didn’t happen.
We spent millions of dollars to elect these national leaders so I suggest that we hold them accountable for making responsible decisions that impact millions of people. It is unthinkable that we refuse to tax the wealthiest and at the same time continue to provide tax subsidies to oil companies. It’s hard to empathize with billionaires who will not be inconvenienced by paying a minimum tax on income over one million dollars.
Once again, the most vulnerable will suffer the deepest loss if the sequester is enacted this weekend. Let me give just a few examples. Head Start will lose $406 million resulting in 70,000 children being eliminated from the program. Public housing support is scheduled to be reduced by $1.94 million. The National Institutes of Health will be cut by $1.6 billion and global health programs by $433 million.
Furthermore, an essential step in these economic times is to create jobs; however, the sequester will go in the opposite direction sliding us back toward a recession. According to Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, 2.14 million jobs will be lost, both defense and non-defense federal workers. If we consider the 325,693 employees in the Defense Department, the 420,529 non-defense federal workers, and those who will lose their jobs in the public and private sector due to cuts to state programs, it is more than an inconvenience to them and their families.
It is the same old story about our elected leaders who are failing to govern responsibly. Unfortunately, it has become commonplace to hear about the breakdown of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans; between the House of Representatives and the Senate; between the White House and Congress. The divisions are so deep that accusations are slung around and in the meantime we face an economic crisis that will have the deepest impact on the marginalized; sadly, not an unusual story.
We must get real. We must recognize that if people are out of work, if parents do not have adequate day care, if families are denied support for housing and health care, they will be cast into a tragic set of circumstances that may take years to remedy. We must raise our voices in protest because caring for one another in the wealthiest nation in the world is the right and just thing to do. It is not an inconvenience.
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.