If recent weeks are any indication, the Republicans hope to make this election season all about values. And, considering the President’s record of job creation and economic growth, the Republicans’ strategy may be the only option. But, if the GOP wants to talk about values, I propose they take a critical look at Paul Ryan’s budget.
Political scientist David Easton writes that politics is “the authoritative allocation of values for a society.” And in an election season increasingly focused on the so-called “values issues,” Easton’s words ring true. However, Easton’s definition understands values more broadly than those talking points to which the GOP normally subscribes. For Easton, “values” can mean goods and services that citizens see as important as well as attitudes about those things society should value.Thus, the distribution of these values is at the very heart of the political process. I argue that the budget is a values issue for three reasons:
1. It determines who gets what;
2. It determines what we care for; and
3. It determines whether we are a society who provides for the “least of these”
Time and again, the Republicans have offered their solution to the deficit: Cut taxes, cut spending on essential services for the poor and middle class, and pray that the math works out in the end. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 is no exception.
The Ryan budget calls for enormous tax benefits for the wealthiest American individuals and big corporations, all paid for by repealing vital programs like the Affordable Care Act, and cutting spending on Medicare, Medicaid, education, and infrastructure. Ryan’s plan also proposes drastic cuts to spending on diplomacy and international development while dramatically increasing spending on the military.
The Ryan budget is a values issue. It determines that the wealthiest Americans get the most and give the least. At the same time, it asks the poor to give the most and get very little in return. It says that we care for big oil companies and Wall Street executives at the expense of a clean environment and an educated population. By cutting spending on crucial international development programs, the Ryan budget determines that military excess is more important than vital programs that help lift our global neighbors out of poverty. If adopted, the Ryan budget will have real consequences for real people.
But we can be a nation that does what’s right while also doing what works. Providing targeted resources to help alleviate the problem of global poverty is the right thing to do, but it also contributes to stability and prosperity in places that are known to be ideal breeding grounds for terrorism. The Affordable Care Act provides access to healthcare for millions of Americans who wouldn’t otherwise have insurance, but it also means that we will lower overall costs by encouraging a healthier population. By stewarding the environment with care, we ensure that future generations will breath cleaner air, drink cleaner water, and lead healthier lives. The same common sense applies to education. A more educated population means a more competitive workforce and a stronger economy. And, while we need a robust and well-equipped military, we can prevent conflicts before they escalate to the use of arms and the grave expense of war by engaging in smart and consistent diplomacy.
As people of faith, we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and steward the environment. In the end, what we do for the poor and vulnerable—what we do for the “least of these”—we do for God. But we don’t have to do those things at the expense of good policy.
So, if the Republicans want to make this election about values, let’s agree to throw away the Ryan budget.