Sequester: When greed becomes policy

PAUL J. RICHARDS AFP/GETTY IMAGES Thisfile photo shows a traffic sign before the Capitol Dome in Washington, DC. The question … Continued



Thisfile photo shows a traffic sign before the Capitol Dome in Washington, DC. The question facing Americans is no longer when or whether the budget axe will fall, but how hard. And in the US capital region, the impact of looming spending cuts will be deepest of all. Warnings were mounting over the impact of the $85 billion automatic “sequester” spending reductions mandated to start March 1, 2013 if warring politicians don’t strike a more modest deficit reduction deal before then.

The “sequester,” $85 billion automatic across-the-board spending cuts passed as part of the budget deal of 2011, is likely to actually happen, cost perhaps a million jobs and stall our fragile economic recovery.

The only people who seem happy about this are members of the Tea Party.

Why would any group of Americans favor such draconian cuts that are likely to spell disaster for our fragile economy?

This moment shows what happens when an ideology of greed as good triumphs over either common sense or core religious values.

The Bi-Partisan Policy Center estimates their base case if the sequester goes through unmodified is a loss of $1 million jobs and a wide-spread slow-down of economic activity. The worst of these effects will fall on the poor and middle class, and not on the wealthy.

President Obama is pushing for a compromise that would avoid the worst effects of the sequester by a more balanced approach of cuts and revenue.

We will not get a reasonable and balanced compromise on the sequester because any Republican, up to and including Speaker of the House John Boehner, fears the Tea Party’s power. Any Republican who breaks rank and supports a compromise on sequestration that includes revenue would fear a Tea Party challenge in their re-election campaign. This is a real fear, and this is how a small group of committed ideologues, combined with gerrymandering in key districts, now runs the country. Even Karl Rove is trying to mitigate the power of the Tea Party.

The Tea Party ideology of small government, no new taxes (especially on the rich), and hyper-individualism is what is broken in our country. It’s as simple and terrible as that. And it is this ideology that we must confront in the strongest possible biblical and theological terms and reject.

We will not have an economic recovery, a thriving middle class, and the ability of the poor to lift themselves out of poverty, until we, as a nation, reject this appalling philosophy. One way to do that is with religious values. In my view, we can do no better than starting with the teachings of Jesus.

The American Values Network has made a very effective biblical case against the Tea Party in the cartoon, Tea Party Jesus: Sermon on the Mall. This video takes the actual words of the Tea Party and asks us to imagine what it would be like if that was how Jesus preached:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for lower taxes, for their own pockets shall be filled.”

“Blessed are those who follow my prophet Ayn Rand, and disparage the merciful, for they shall never have to show mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in ideology, for they can demonize any who disagree.”

Blessed are those who refuse to compromise, for their obstinacy will obstruct progress.”

The sequester represents the core of the Tea Party philosophy of spending cuts and opposing new taxes, especially on the rich.

But at its heart, this philosophy is not just the pragmatics of cuts and no new taxes. It is an embrace of greed, selfishness and hyper-individualism that is the antithesis of what Jesus of Nazareth preached. Consider Jesus’ words from Luke 6: 20-21, 24):

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

In other words, the poor are blessed and the rich don’t make out very well in the teachings of Jesus.

We need to reject the ideology of selfishness and greed once and for all. It’s not moral, and, as we shall surely see in the coming months, if the sequester does happen, it is economically disastrous.


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."
  • WmarkW

    SBT’s economic program:

    Greed — wanting to pay low taxes
    Values — voting for government re-distribution to people like yourself

  • AgentFoxMulder

    There are many problems with the assertions in this article by Ms. Thistlethwaite. However, the most glaring is:

    The President asked for and RECEIVED tax hikes in January. Now it is time for the PRESIDENT and HIS fellow DEMOCRATS to deliver on their PROMISED spending cuts and the are, not surprisingly, GOING BACK ON THEIR PROMISE.

    The position of the President and the Democrats in Congress is obviously, “We want higher taxes and NO spending cuts (in spite of what we agreed to in January). We will hold the country hostage to the threat of Sequestration unless we get what we want.”

    Are we to believe that Obama the Great and Powerful and his ironed will Democrats are at the mercy of the itty bitty Tea Party?

  • persiflage

    ‘We will not get a reasonable and balanced compromise on the sequester because any Republican, up to and including Speaker of the House John Boehner, fears the Tea Party’s power.’

    Exactly. Although the GOP somehow deluded themselves into believing that an initially small group of rightwing radical know-nothings would eventually take control of an entire political party. The Tea Party was initially seen as a controllable tool that could be wielded as a weapon, at the discretion of republican power brokers – and suddenly, the idiot fringe is in charge!

    The desperation of a largely defunct republican party getting by on a political platform with obstructionism as it’s core value, has now put the entire nation in a unique state of jeopardy from within – our own worst enemy.

    That’s quite a distinction.

  • persiflage

    ……would never take control of an entire political party……..

  • persiflage

    …………..wanting to pay low taxes……

    Wrong century Mark, unless you’re talking about your man Romney, who lives on capital gains that have only just now gone up to a debt service of 20% – from many years at a mere 15%. You don’t think his main stash was largely protected by corporate loopholes over the years?

    Naturally, he’s not the only one……he just happens to belong to the party that has sworn to fend off closing corporate tax loopholes, when not that long ago they were all for it as a way of balancing the budget.

    Republicans want blood from social security, medicare, and federal employees. They want the Ryan tax plan, in other words. No more revenues, cries the idiot speaker of the house.

  • quiensabe

    “…draconian cuts,” Susan? And you’re going to start with your “religious values” to reject “this appalling philosophy”of The Tea Party?

  • flynn444

    “The Tea Party ideology of small government, no new taxes (especially on the rich), and hyper-individualism is what is broken in our country. It’s as simple and terrible as that. And it is this ideology that we must confront in the strongest possible biblical and theological terms and reject.”


    Oh, yes! Massive increases in government spending, deficits as far as the eye can see, debt approaching 100% of GDP, a vast new regulatory and tax regime on an already byzantine health care system, trillions in unfunded pension and Medicare liabilities, etc., etc., and Susan identifies “hyper-individualism” and “greed” as “what is broken in this country” [sic].

    Guess it’s not her fault. After all, she believes in demons, angels, talking snakes, dead people rising from their graves, and all manner of crazy things, so we shouldn’t be surprised by other beliefs that defy reality as well.

  • longjohns

    Well Ms. Thistlethwaite. After some of my previous fun at your expense, I do applaud you for coming back to the words of Jesus. I’ll keep an open mind on whether the government could be smaller (maybe it could–especially the military). However, you are absolutely right that we need to help the poor and needy and that the only real real for not doing it is because people who have money don’t want to spend it helping others. Whether or not Jesus is God, his words do ring true. Do the right thing.

  • quiensabe

    Well, Mr. long, Jesus is God. And if people with money weren’t spending it to help others there would be no help at all. Do you expect the poor to help the poor?

  • longjohns

    scott. There is no need to talk about confiscation, greed, or Marx. What you should instead think about is 7 day workweeks, child labor, and subsistence wages. All existed when the likes of John Rockefeller had more than enough wealth to share. What changed these conditions? Government policy changes brought on by voter discontent in the form of laws.

    So yes the wealthy are not all without social conscience. Many in silicon valley is asking for higher taxes. But more like the Mr. Romney or the Koch brothers are fighting that. And bureaucrats and politicians are not to be trusted–except their power ultimately comes at the polling stations. Whereas the rich–in our system, once they safely ensconced their cash, they are untouchable.

  • persiflage

    Although the stingy rich won’t be accompanying Scottie through the eye of the needle on the road to paradise, he supports their regressive republican politics on planet earth because they serve his arcane theology. Thus has it always been for many in the laboring class – dedicated apologists for the rich.

  • persiflage

    ‘They were elected to “obstruct” the Socialist juggernaut that is Reid/Pelosi/Obama.’

    You couldn’t tell a Socialist from a Whig Scottie………the tea party is a cohort of disgruntled complainers that seem to know nothing about nothing.

    They have no understanding of how our own government works or how the economy works, much less the constitutional separation of church and state built into to our secular, democratic form of government.

    Under-educated do-nothing anarchists is how I’d describe them.

Read More Articles

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.