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PAUL J. RICHARDS
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.