The 2013 budget: A looming drama of biblical proportions

JOSHUA ROBERTS REUTERS Boxes containing copies of the 2013 Federal Budget are displayed at the Government Printing Office in Washington … Continued

JOSHUA ROBERTS

REUTERS

Boxes containing copies of the 2013 Federal Budget are displayed at the Government Printing Office in Washington February 13, 2012.

The ‘children of light and the children of darkness’ (1 Thess. 5:5) are sharpening their moral rhetoric as the President announces his FY 2013 budget. Getting much of this budget passed is going to be a huge struggle. Each side in the debate over the budget will claim the mantle of the ‘light’ and try to cast the other as in the outer ‘darkness.’ This year, stark moral contrast is not wrong. In my view as a Christian pastor, it is a biblical imperative that these budget priorities the president has set, and more, be passed and implemented.

Now is the time to see the choices for our nation in the clearest possible way. That’s why I agree with Paul Ryan when he said the GOP should not just attack President Obama’s policies, but “sharpen” the contrasts between their vision of the country, and those of the President. “Give them the choice of two futures,” said Ryan. Absolutely. It is critical that that the American public receive the most transparent information and see the real choices.

Here are some real choices:

Who pays?

Do the rich pay more, or do the poor and the middle class? There’s a choice of profoundly biblical import. See, for example, Jesus and the rich young ruler. (Luke 18:18-23)

The president’s budget proposal prioritizes “fairness” on the revenue side as well as cuts to reduce the deficit. This includes the popular “Buffet Rule,” the 30 percent minimum tax on those earning more than $1 million annually, letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for families whose income is above $250,000 annually, and capping itemized deductions for top earners. Taxes will also increase for large financial institutions via a “Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee,” and also on the oil, gas and coal industries.

The majority of the GOP candidates, however, would make the Bush tax cuts permanent, reduce (or eliminate per Mr. Santorum) corporate taxes, and some, like Mr. Gingrich would perhaps move the country to a regressive “flat tax” of 15 percent. Then where will the budget “balancing” come from? Will this mean “overhauling” entitlement programs like Medicare, a term that may mean a return to the privatizing of Medicare as came up in last year’s “Ryan Budget,” and cutting deeper into program spending (except military spending)? Much greater transparency is needed here. If this is what is meant, the American public need to see this vision of America very clearly.

How much war do we need?

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” (Matt. 5:9) said Jesus of Nazareth in the first century CE as his country was occupied by the militaristic Roman Empire. And yet, in the last decade we have pursued wars that may end up costing over $ 4 trillion dollars, wars we are now trying to end. So why should we still let our national leaders get away with so much war and war spending in our national budgets?

We already do the vast majority of our “discretionary,” i.e. non-entitlement, spending on war, preparing for war, and caring for those injured in war, than anything else. The 2013 budget proposal, even with mandated cuts, has us still devoting an outsize amount of the discretionary budget to “military spending.” The rest of this part of the budget has to be divided up among education, energy, the environment, and housing assistance, for example. Even worse, the military budget is “still on track to grow, grow, grow,” despite these cuts.

Yet, GOP candidates are all calling for the president not to cut military spending at all. Add to that the heightened “pro-war” rhetoric regarding attacking Iran by these candidates (except Ron Paul) and there is an unholy return to the disastrous idea of preemptive war that got us bogged down, militarily, diplomatically, and financially in the Iraq war. If these candidates get their way, there will be no deficit reductions from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as there will be a new war and they will consequently explode the deficit even more.

That’s the George W. Bush vision of America. The Bush tax cuts and the two wars bought on credit are a huge chunk of the revenue reduction and increased spending that created the massive deficits in the first place.

If you liked Bush’s America, be sure to support that vision.

The poor and the peaceful need better lobbyists

The Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposal isn’t as good as it needs to be, however. It is not the “light” against the “darkness” or salvation by budget priorities. It’s a pretty conservative budget, frankly, and one that does not propose nearly enough cuts in our bloated military spending, and it does only a very modest amount to help those who are still struggling in this economy, and very little to help the most poor. The president’s plan includes $360 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts over the next decade, though does not call for “structural reform” of those programs.

The U.S. military budget has doubled in the last ten years. Doubled. There are obviously far more cuts that can and should be made to reduce this obscene amount of military spending, and in the process treat our national addiction to the idea that every problem in the world has a military solution.

We should take the money that we save from war spending and help the poor and stimulate the economy even further to create jobs. The social safety net is in tatters and the jobs numbers are improving much too slowly.

This budget and its choices are biblical choices. Who pays, the rich or the poor? Do we pay for more war, or pursue peace? In the prophetic tradition in the Bible, and especially in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount, there is a strong emphasis on taking care of the poor and making peace not war. In Micah, “Nations will not train for war anymore,” (4:3) and in Amos, a warning to those who “trample on the poor.” Amos counsels those who do not do right by the poor that they should not long for the day of judgment, because “that day will be darkness, not light.” (Amos 5:11-21)

As a person of faith, I believe we should budget according to Amos’ vision: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!” (Amos 5:24)

And if there is no one else to stand up and lobby for a biblical vision of justice and peace in our national budget priorities, then it is up to people of faith who believe in that vision to do so. Starting now.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • Theophile

    Hi Susan,
    The problem here is, the constitution provides for neither the GOP, or Obama’ s positions. If we want to “strengthen the hand of the poor”, how about eliminating “free trade” with countries that have no EPA, OSHA, Labor boards, Living wage, or human rights? Or lets just follow the constitution and make the gov. survive on import duties, taxes, etc. Then American labor won’t have to compete with slave labor, for shelf space at WalMart.
    When George Bush sr. said: “Until Saddam complies with UN security council resolution 678 and the 12 preceding resolutions, we will continue to bomb Iraq”, where was the cry from the pulpit against the “new world order” resolution 666 and the 12 following(symbolic?) resolutions? How has that enforcing 666 worked out for those Christian Iraqis, with 20/20 year hindsight?
    As Ron Paul seems to be the only candidate that observes the constitution, his ideas seem the strange, just as Plato’s description of Democracy as essentially “mob rule”, of lesser(easily led) minds, is equally strange. Hows that democracy working out for Christians in Muslim majority countries now?
    The governments role is not to: raise(pay for) Your children, educate them, provide Your health, create a job for You, or bail You out because You are too big to fail.

    I think God is speaking to us in Isaiah 3:12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people they which lead thee cause the to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

  • jbjs40

    Hello, I would like to add to this great posting. My wife and I have been Christians from about 2004. At first it was a warm and intimate friendship that we had with the pastor and his family. Something ugly reared it’s head in 2007 leading up to the election of Barack Obama. Many in our new church were obviously leaning in the other direction. We did not know how they could justify that but we were respectful of their opinions and let it lay go at that.
    However, More and more our views which seemed way too liberal for them were being seen as ignorant and opposing theirs. The topics in church became very political. At that time the pastor would encourage people to watch biased news and listen to far right radio shows. He then asked us all to vote for McCain and Palin. We were shocked because we held Bible studies with my children and we were studying Jesus words. All this conservative talk about the poor deserving to be poor, this anti healthcare talk, along with the bashing of gays and lesbians, led us to believe, based on the words of Jesus, not Paul nor the Old Testament, that Jesus himself was kind of a pain in the butt for religious folk at the time. He was called a radical by those very same people who were self righteous and kept everyone from living the life Jesus wanted them to experience. In other words something else got in the way of these people serving the lord and that was religion itself and all of it’s rules and limitations. Jesus came and set the true believers free from the very constraints that the religious leaders burdened them with. Allowing them to be who Jesus intended them to be.
    We were alienated from our church and called many names and ridiculed for our beliefs. The church leaders even went so far as to say to my wife that I would have no place in this community as far as jobs go.
    Now I ask, Does this sound like the kind of Love that Jesus spoke about and lived and taught? Or are today’s church leaders repeating those same things

  • jeb_jackson

    Again, Susan, you’ve got it wrong. Jesus said for the rich young ruler to give what he had over to the poor. He didn’t say for the rich young ruler to take what we have and and redistribute it.

    And, besides that gaining eternal life does not require this. Jesus was illustrating that the things of this world stand in the way of serving Him. Eternal life comes through faith in Jesus Christ, not our works.

  • persiflage

    ‘Do the rich pay more, or do the poor and the middle class? There’s a choice of profoundly biblical import. See, for example, Jesus and the rich young ruler. (Luke 18:18-23)’

    and

    ‘That’s the George W. Bush vision of America. The Bush tax cuts and the two wars bought on credit are a huge chunk of the revenue reduction and increased spending that created the massive deficits in the first place.’
    ___________________

    The poor and the middle class are still paying for the unfunded Bush wars, while the rich continue to pay less than their fair share – the very rich, like Mitt Romney, pay a minimal 15% tax rate on unearned capital gains. Everyone makes money off of war, except the ones doing the fighting and dieing.

    The problem with turning this question over to the religious right wing is obvious already ……….. they support whatever republicans support – evangelicals are overwhelmingly to the right of center and choose to interpret the bible however it fits into their overall world view, which naturally includes their political ideology.

    Using religion as a means of promoting thoughtfulness among those with entrenched political convictions is a lost cause…………….

  • ccnl1

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror

    - One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    - Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    - Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    - The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian “religions” and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    - Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    - Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    - All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

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