The Federal Budget as a Moral Document

Jim Wallis joined other Christian leaders yesterday to point out that the federal budget is a moral document. He stated:

“Any budget is a moral statement of priorities, whether it’s a budget created by an individual, a family, a school, a city, or a nation. It tells us, mathematically, what areas, issues, things, or people are most important to the creators of that budget, and which are least important.”

“The new budget blueprints from the Trump administration ultimately propose $54 billion in increased military spending (for FY18) along with massive tax cuts for the richest Americans. Trump’s team plans to pay for those choices by cutting a wide array of anti-poverty programs— including nutrition programs for low-income families with children along with their housing, heating, and after-school programs, and a whole range of community development and educational programs — and by attacking Medicaid again, saving money by endangering the health of the poorest among us.”

(Note: He did not talk about the debt increase that will occur from his proposed budget–I will get to this shortly. But basically, he is proposing to cut $18 billion from the budget, but clearly, that will not equal increases to defense spending, increases to Homeland Security, building the war and tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. There is nothing balanced about the President’s math.

It is also important to remember that the President’s proposed budget is merely a wish list. Only Congress has the authority to appropriate money–i.e. make the final budget.).

For too long, there has been a myth that the anti-poverty programs have been a failure. Data suggests otherwise. “…data from the Center on Budget and Policy priorities show us the vital role of these programs: In 2015, domestic “safety net” programs aimed at the poor cut the poverty rate nearly in half, from 26.3 percent if you took away all government assistance to 14.3 percent with the safety net in place. ”

For him, and those who believe in Jesus, it comes down to honoring the words found in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, “As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.” This includes caring for the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and the stranger.

In my years teaching public administration, budgets were plans and represented political power: who gets what.  I like this re-frame as a moral document.

It is interesting to see the connection between religious values and policies  that get to the core of the teachings of Jesus. In a Congress where the overwhelming majority report to be Christian, it makes me wonder how they can ignore this basic tenet of their faith.

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