While politicians in Washington negotiate how to defuse the fiscal cliff showdown, the moral dimension of the debate has gone largely unaddressed. As a minister, I believe it's time to start this long-overdue conversation.
The current confrontation between Congressional Republicans and President Obama has enormous realworld consequences for struggling families, senior citizens and the future of our nation. The joint problems of persistent poverty and human suffering, shockingly high economic inequality between a tiny elite and the vast majority of all Americans, and a debt that is unsustainable in the long term cry out for fair solutions that put families first and require the most powerful and wealthy among us to pay their fair share.
Letting tax breaks that only benefit the richest Americans expire and closing loopholes for powerful corporate special interests isn't a magic bullet, but it's a necessary part of a balanced solution that protects poor families and Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we reduce the debt.
While some politicians fret about the supposedly devastating impact ending these tax breaks would have on small businesses and jobs, their warnings are hard to take seriously. Trickle-down economics has accomplished nothing except further enrich the wealthiest Americans and explode the national debt. It's time to end this failed experiment.
A key criterion of morally sound fiscal and budget policy is its effect on low-income people and the most vulnerable, those referred to in the Gospel as "the least among us."
What I fear our elected officials don't realize is that programs like food stamps, unemployment insurance and the Earned Income Tax Credits don't merely help poor people subsist, they lift Americans out of poverty. As our economy continues to sputter cuts to these programs are inexcusable.
The private sector and faith-based groups also provide critical assistance to low-income families, but the government can't abdicate its role in this arena. Only six percent of food aid for hungry Americans comes from private sources.
Many religious hospitals and clinics could not operate without funding from federal programs. In order for this indispensable work to continue while we reduce the deficit, we need to raise more tax revenue.
As the final deal gets ironed out in Washington, I pray that the actual effectiveness of policy takes precedence over symbolic tokens that allow both sides to save face. If they come up short, we must hold them accountable.