One of the gravest dangers of the Budget Control Act passed yesterday is that it could provide Americans with a false sense of security. Washington has finally taken action. The crisis has passed. The sky is brightening, the trees are parting before us and — we’re out of the woods. Right?
Alas, but no. Not only are we deep in the dark heart of the forest, but we’re still walking in the wrong direction. The pace may have slowed, but the trajectory has not. The immediate cash-flow crisis has passed, but the long-term solvency crisis remains. We are still borrowing enormous amounts of money, still selling our children into debt slavery through our own spending insanity. While the Budget Control Act (best summarized by Keith Hennessey) is intended to reduce the deficit (the difference between expected revenues and planned spending, or the amount we have to borrow in order to spend what we want to spend) in the years to come, it does not reduce the debt (the amount the federal government owes). It slows — by a little — the rate at which the debt grows, but the debt is still astronomical and still swiftly growing.
So make no mistake: the Budget Control Act doesn’t put a dent in the mountain of debt our government has accrued. If the commitments of the BCA are fulfilled, then we will add to that mountain at a slightly-less-manic pace than before, but the very purpose of the act was to enable the big Beltway spenders to make the mountain bigger. Worse, the BCA leaves completely unchanged the social and political dynamics that have led to this debt in the first place. Our political elite are addicted to spending. It’s how they curry favor, it’s how they win elections, and it’s how they exercise and enjoy their power. They’re perfectly willing to borrow money to feed the addiction, because they have a credit card. The name on the credit card is: You and Your Children.
One of the great difficulties of this issue, for Christians, is that the morality of spending and debt has been so thoroughly demagogued that it’s impossible to advocate cuts in government spending without being accused of hatred for the poor and needy. A group calling itself the “Circle of Protection” recently promoted a statement on “Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor.” But we don’t need to protect the programs. We need to protect the poor. Indeed, sometimes we need to protect the poor from the programs. Too many anti-poverty programs are beneficial for the politicians that pass them, and veritable boondoggles for the government bureaucracy that administers them, but they actually serve to rob the poor of their dignity and their initiative, they undermine the family structures that help the poor build prosperous lives, and ultimately mire the poor in poverty for generations. Does anyone actually believe that the welfare state has served the poor well?
It is immoral to ignore the needs of the least of these. But it’s also immoral to ‘serve’ the poor in ways that only make more people poor, and trap them in poverty longer. And it’s immoral to amass a mountain of debt that we will pass on to later generations. I even believe it’s immoral to feed the government’s spending addiction. Since our political elites have demonstrated such remarkably poor stewardship over our common resources, it would be foolish and wrong to give them more resources to waste. What we need are political leaders committed to prudence and thrift, to wise and far-sighted stewardship, and to spurring a free and thriving economy that will encourage the poor and all Americans to seize their human dignity as creatures made in the image of God, to be fruitful and take initiative and express their talents and creativity.
Both parties have failed. Our common resources have been stewarded unwisely and the United States is trillions of dollars in debt. We have reached a breaking point. Fiscal recklessness must stop. Just as we should not balance the budget “on the backs of the poor,” so we should not balance the budget on the backs of our children and grandchildren.
Even as the debt-ceiling crisis passes, the long-term challenge of making federal spending wise and effective remains. We recommend three steps:
1. Correctly identify the problem.
The debt disaster is a spending issue. Tax revenues are finite, while the growth of government is unceasing. By any measure, federal spending has skyrocketed, from $2.9 trillion in 2008 to $3.8 trillion in 2011. We presently borrow over forty cents of every dollar we spend. While increasing taxes will generate additional revenues and reduce the deficit in the short term, it will ultimately harm the economy, constrain economic growth, and hasten the out-of-control growth of government. To give more money to Washington is to give the sickness the remedy it requests. The last thing the government needs is more money. It needs to cease its unwise and profligate spending.
2. Put narrow political interests aside.
Entrenched political interests stagnate reform. Every cent of government spending must be on the table, for ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ priorities alike. The stated intention of helping the needy does not make poverty programs sacrosanct. Some of these programs ‘serve’ the poor so well that they make more people poor and keep them in poverty longer. Stop the demagoguery against those who propose substantive changes to entitlements and social welfare programs.
3. Lead for the long term.
Americans yearn for, and deeply appreciate, leaders who embrace a burden of responsibility that transcends the implications of the next election cycle. While we agree that budgets are moral documents insofar as they reflect values and decisions for which we are morally culpable, long-term budget plans are morally meaningful promises we make to later generations. Right now we are morally failing our children and grandchildren by selling their future flourishing for our present comfort. In hard times, true leaders make hard decisions. We encourage you to put aside political calculations and the pressures of special interest groups to make commitments that are in the long-term interest of the American economy and the American people.
Read the whole letter here. The religious left has monopolized the language of morality and justice when it comes to matters of government spending. If we should ask, “What would Jesus cut?”, then we should also ask “Whom would Jesus indebt?” and “Whom would Jesus make dependent on government?” Since the poor are the first ones hurt by a damaged economy and high unemployment, there is a deeply moral case to be made for serving “the least of these” through policies that promote a flourishing economy and culture.
I am deeply concerned. Deeply concerned that we lack the political will, the political culture, and the general culture that will be necessary to rebuild an economy that flourishes and sustains. I’d encourage you to sign the letter. Let’s form a coalition of concerned Christians who are committed to rebuilding. Promoting a broader vision of the full counsel of scripture when it comes to matters of spending and debt — and promoting a culture of thrift and stewardship, of creativity and industry, or liberty and opportunity, of life and family — and holding our national leaders accountable to look past the calculations of political advantage and make decisions that will serve our economy and our nation well for generations to come — these are all steps in the right direction, steps that will turn us around and lead us out of the woods.
Let’s begin now — prayerfully, charitably, and deliberately, but now. The stakes are high.