Priorities for a “Faithful” Federal Budget

July 23, 2012

Food banks and soup kitchens alone won’t lift families out of hunger and poverty. We need a federal budget that supports the most vulnerable among us, according to religious leaders of various faiths who are urging Congress to enact a balanced deficit reduction package and eliminate spending cuts that would harm families who are already struggling.

“The question is which way is our country moving?”

- Rabbi David Saperstein

As Congress hammers out the details of the 2013 fiscal budget, the Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs, a coalition of faith-based and faith-affiliated advocacy groups, calls for policy makers to address the country’s widening income gap and the economic reality that traps families in poverty for generations.

The working group also urges Congress to raise new revenues in ways that will meet the needs of families, rather than relying on spending cuts alone to balance the budget and address the nation’s deficit.

Faithful Alternatives to Sequestration provides specific requests and asks Congress to enact a comprehensive, balanced, and bi-partisan budget reduction package that:

  • Does not increase poverty;
  • Protects programs like SNAP and WIC that ensure families have food on their tables, and programs like Medicaid that keep families healthy;
  • Raises new revenues in ways that allow us to meet the nation’s needs with strategies including a more progressive tax code; and
  • Cuts military spending as recommended by several bipartisan commissions.

Sequestration—an automatic form of spending cuts triggered in the Congressional Budget Control Act of 2011—will go into effect on January 1, 2013 if policymakers can’t reach a compromise. That means a 10 percent across-the-board cuts for all programs, regardless of their purpose, and for defense spending.

At a Capitol Hill briefing on June 28 sponsored by the working group, Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, shared his thoughts on why the federal budget and sequestration are important issues for the faith community.

“Sequestration poses a troubling moral issues for people of faith in that it treats all policy issues as equal in weight,” Schneck says. “For people of faith, they’re never all equal.”

Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities agrees that sequestration would be harmful, but he cautions advocates that the alternatives could be worse. “The political drum beat to avoid sequestration at all costs is a mistake,” Kogan says.

The 2013 Republican budget proposal, written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has already passed in the House of Representatives and would create deeper cuts for low-income families than sequestration, pushing the families of 2 million children into poverty.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-sponsor of the briefing with Rep. Rosa DeLaurio (D-Conn.), believes that Congress needs to focus on solving crises like poverty and unemployment before addressing long-term problems. “The budget deficit and national debt are problems,” Ellison says. “But right now, Congress should be focusing on unemployment. That’s a crisis. Poverty in our country is a crisis.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, says that whether a country protects its most vulnerable citizens is a “litmus test of a moral society.”

“The question,” Saperstein asks, “is which way is our country moving?”

Julee Newberger is a freelance writer and contributing editor to SparkAction.



Julee Newberger