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Another way to show the rise in mandatory spending is to state the percent of total federal spending devoted to mandatory expenditures. In 1962, mandatory spending took only 25% of the federal budget. By 1975, it took 45%. And in 2009, it was 59.5%.
Policy changes are essential if we want to avoid economic crisis. We need some new mix of increased federal revenues (i.e., more taxes) and reduced federal expenditures. Doing that in a timely, wise fashion will be difficult because the political debate today is more partisan, divisive, nasty and sometimes dishonest than at any time in decades. We will be able to fix our economic—and moral—deficit only if large numbers of citizens demand it.
But we must. Not only to avoid economic disaster but also to promote justice: both intergenerational justice for the future and justice for poor folk now.
It is flatly immoral for my generation of Americans (I am a senior) to demand continuing federal expenditures that we refuse to pay for. Putting my current purchases on my grandchildren's credit cards is outrageous injustice. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that under current policy, "There will be a transfer of resources from future generations to past and present generations of workers equal to $13.6 trillion for social security and $12.5 trillion for Medicare." We must move decisively over the next few years to dramatically reduce and then end ongoing federal budget deficits.
But we dare not do that in a way that neglects poor Americans and poor folk around the world. As we will see in chapter two, poverty continues to grow in the richest nation in history. And many millions of desperately poor people in Africa and elsewhere will simply die unless we continue foreign economic assistance. To try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor would be outrageously immoral.
For twenty years, Roseland Christian Ministries Center on the south side of Chicago ran a program for homeless men. The state helped pay for the program with an annual grant of $380,000. But nine years ago, after the 2001 recession hit, the state slashed its contribution to $190,000, and two years ago the state totally ended its help. In June 2011, Roseland had to shut its doors, ending an effective program for very needy men.
That is not the way to solve governmental budget deficits. The budget crisis is real. We must move decisively to solve it. But it would be immoral to do it, as Amos warned long ago, in ways that "trample on the heads of the poor" (Amos 2:7).
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