As United States government leaders debate budget cuts and tax breaks in a race to pass a balanced budget by New Year's Eve, two United Church of Christ officers are adding their voices to the conversation.
UCC General Minister and President, the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, and Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, joined other senior religious leaders from across the country on Capitol Hill Thursday, Nov. 29, to ask the Obama Administration and Congress not to place the burden of the nation's debt on the shoulders of the poor.
The faith leaders appealed to U.S. leaders to compromise on a solution that doesn't throw low-income families off the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"Some view this revenue crisis with fear and anticipation, but as we enter this holy season, we look forward in faith," Black said. "Families struggling at the economic margins should not pay the price for solving a deficit they did not create. They have suffered enough. We must act in the best tradition of religious values and American compassion by seeking a solution that does not push the poor and vulnerable over the fiscal cliff."
The faith leaders lobbied lawmakers about how the deficit is at its highest level ($16.4 trillion) because of inadequate revenue, high military spending from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a recession that placed more people into poverty.
Religious representatives from 16 different states — Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and the District of Columbia were in the nation's capital as part of an interfaith effort to encourage government leaders to pass a faithful budget that includes funding for humanitarian and poverty-focused programs.
The leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths spoke for the marginalized in America who could suffer from the nation's deficit problems. Black, Jaramillo and others hope budget negotiators avoid preserving tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting programs that support vulnerable families.
"It is simply not acceptable that deficit reduction might increase the burden on those struggling the most in our communities," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in D.C. "It is intolerable that debt reduction should come on the backs of the poorest among us, that it increases poverty or inequality."
The UCC is a strong supporter of the Faithful Budget Campaign, a collaboration of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and organizations, which promotes principles that help lift the burden on the poor, rather than increasing it and shielding wealthy Americans from any additional responsibility. The Faithful Budget addresses areas of health care, education, the environment, job creation, and social safety-net programs.
"We don't have a budget crisis in this country. There's plenty of money. We have a values crisis, a priorities crisis," said Sister Deb Troillett of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in Arkansas. "If Congress cuts back on even the tiny portion – less than 1 percent of our budget – that we give for humanitarian and poverty programs, this would be a terrible message to give."
Since the election, attention has turned to how elected representatives would respond with the approach of the fiscal cliff in January. The cliff, a combination of several expiring several tax breaks and automatic spending cuts in defense and non-defense spending, would likely cause another recession if a new budget is not approved before the end of the year. The fiscal cliff could potentially take a $500-billion chunk out of the U.S. economy.
If you would like to join the UCC in telling the government to avoid a fiscal cliff -showdown, add your voice here.