Legislative Priorities: Economic Inequality, Militarism & Voting Rights
February 2014. The staff from our UCC Washington office outlines their 2014 legislative priorities. Together they explore our call to address economic inequality, promote real human security, and work for a restoration of voting rights.
The Washington Office of the United Church of Christ annually sets issue priorities based on directions from our General Synod, the passions of our members and advocates, and taking into account issues that may see action from Congress or the Administration in the year to come.
This year we engaged in an expansive review process to help us determine where we might best engage as advocates in 2014. Thank you to the many UCC members who helped inform our decision by taking our legislative priorities survey.
In 2014 we will continue to work on a wide range of issues as prescribed by our General Synod, but we will dedicate special prayer, attention, and advocacy to:
- Leveling Economic Inequality
- Addressing Increased Militarism and Pentagon Spending
- Restoring Voting Rights
Look for special opportunities to engage on these issues in the months ahead. We invite you to begin by learning a bit more about our 2014 legislative priorities.
Jobs should lift people out of poverty, not keep them there. The unfortunate reality however, is that poor public policies in relation to these issues often make it impossible for working people to raise themselves out of poverty. Many Americans who work full time are not given benefits or paid time off, and are unable to provide for their families on meager wages.
How can we advocate for worker justice and greater equality?
- Raise the Wage – The federal minimum wage has not been raised from $7.25 an hour since 2009—a startling figure when compared to the minimum wage in 1968 which is close to $10.50 in today’s dollars.
- Paid Sick Leave – Millions of workers in this country don’t have a single paid sick day — and each time they take needed time off, they risk their families’ economic security and jeopardize the public’s health.
- End Wage Theft – Wage theft happens in every industry, victimizing millions. As a practice it cheats workers, steals from the public when companies fail to pay employment taxes, and puts ethical businesses at an unfair disadvantage.
- Address the Pay Gap Disparity – Women and people of color are more likely to hold low-wage jobs, and many women are still not paid as much as men who do the same jobs.
- Strengthen our Safety Net – Safety net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance provide temporary assistance to vulnerable Americans, helping to lift people out of poverty or keep those living at the margins from falling into poverty during difficult circumstances.
As UCC advocates, we understand our responsibility to care for the poor and vulnerable. Our General Synod has spoken repeatedly on issues of economic justice, reaffirming time and again the UCC’s commitment to raising and keeping people out of poverty.
We know that now is a critical time to make sure voices of conscience are heard on the policies that impact working families. Workers around the country in a variety of low-wage professions have been going on strike and rallying, asking for more just wages and work standards. While some corporations are making positive changes, many still refuse, and legislative action is needed to effect broad change. President Obama and some members of Congress have been working to garner Congressional support for raising the minimum wage. Regardless of what our elected officials deem politically possible, we recognize our call to this important work.
We will heed the call of General Synod 27, which reminds us:
As Christians we sing the hymns of justice, equality, and unity; we pray for the well being of all God’s children; and we continue our activities to feed the hungry and house the homeless. But all the while we watch the gap between rich and poor in our own nation and in the world become ever wider, with many millions left in poverty…The United Church of Christ and its predecessor church bodies, along with many Christians around the world, have received Christ’s summons to call our churches and our societies toward the blessed vision of God’s Realm, including justice in our economic life.”
As people of faith we understand that our federal budget is a moral document and that our spending priorities impact the lives of millions. Decisions to increase or decrease funding to particular agencies or programs are value statements that fundamentally shape our society and the way we as a nation balance the needs of all Americans. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has offered us a vision for balancing our national priorities to live out our call to care for the earth, the common good, and particularly those most in need.
We believe that a faithful budget is one that supports the vulnerable, uplifts our common good, and prioritizes true human security over disproportionate military spending.
The issue of military spending is a particular challenge for us as people of faith. We see images throughout our scripture calling us to “beat swords into plowshares…spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4) challenging our inclination to violence and militarism. Our scripture calls us to look and work for God’s peace, God’s promise of transformation in which a “new heaven and new earth” will come in which justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
Compare this vision with Pentagon spending, which has doubled since 1998, now to over $520 billion projected for 2014 – or over half of federal discretionary spending. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone cost over $1.5 trillion over the past decade. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains the world’s largest arms exporter and accounts for 40% of total world military expenditures.
This year we have seen some cuts to our defense budget for the first time in memory, but these cuts were conditioned on equal cuts to vital human needs programs, and experts believe that the Pentagon could withstand an even deeper cut over the next decade without harming U.S. security in order to support other underfunded priorities. We believe that now is a time when we are uniquely positioned to move forward into a new paradigm by calling on policy makers to restrain Pentagon spending and reallocate resources toward humanitarian and developmental needs, conflict prevention and civilian peace-building initiatives.
Voting is at the heart of the democratic process. It is the most fundamental access point for individuals to engage in the public dialogue and have a voice in the public policy decision-making process that can shape the future of our local, regional, national and global collective life.
The UCC General Synod has long supported voting rights and addressing obstacles to participation in the electoral process within the broader context of the civil rights struggle. The General Synod witness around voting rights is grounded in the understanding that justice cannot be achieved unless the rules for governing the democratic process are fair to all.
Voter rights have been significantly undermined in the last several years on multiple fronts, including:
- State efforts to restrict voter rights through stringent voter identification laws and rollbacks in early voting;
- An increase in voter intimidation and misinformation campaigns intended to dissuade or discourage voter participation;
- Last year’s Supreme Court decision rolling back key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act;
- And the impact of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which has opened the floodgates of corporate spending on election campaigns, drowning out the voices of individual citizens and their vote.
Efforts are underway in Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act and to address issues related to campaign spending. For us as justice advocates, 2014 will be an important time for us to focus our energy towards restoring voting rights in the lead up to the midterm elections.