Acting on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines have issued a letter to the US House of Representatives. The bishops state that they wish to “address the moral and human dimensions of the ongoing federal budget debate,’ saying that the choices facing American politicians have a moral dimension, as well as political and economic ones. (more…)
Coolidge was the last president to oversee federal budget surpluses for every year in office. He cut taxes and government while preaching the wisdom of the American Founders. He was dismissed by many intellectual contemporaries and most historians ignored him or discounted him as some sort of throwback that came to power by luck. A mere placeholder in between the more important Progressive and New Deal eras. But as our spending and debt crisis continues to spiral out of control, America is starving for economic heroes. There is so little courage in Washington to make the tough choices and address the crisis directly. The spending binge has become a mockery of America’s foundations and ideals.
However, This fiscal insanity, debt, and rapid centralization of power is magnifying Coolidge’s heroics. His words and deeds are really timeless though, and deeply rooted in America’s Founding. The principles and lessons only need to be put into practice. Below is a great excerpt from the introduction of Shlaes’s biography:
Our great presidential heroes have often been war leaders, generals, and commanders. That seems natural to us. The big personalities of some presidents have drawn attention, hostile or friendly: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt. There are plenty of personal events in Coolidge’s life, many of them sad, but he was principally a man of work. Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.
It makes little, or really no sense for Americans to fork over more taxes without a balanced federal budget and seeing some fiscal responsibility out of Washington. The fact that the United States Senate hasn’t passed a budget in well over three years doesn’t mean we aren’t spending money, we are spending more than ever. The last time the Senate passed a budget resolution was April of 2009.
We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that “taxing the rich” at an even greater rate will somehow dig us out of this mess. That’s delusional of course but the line works well in focus groups and polls. Here is a great common sense post from Frank Hill on the problems with that line of reasoning. Hill directs The Institute for the Public Trust and has a solid understanding of the economic and budget challenges facing the nation. His blog is a must to follow and as always Acton’s Principles for Budget Reform are worth reading.
There has been a lot of news coverage and debate about Republicans who signed a tax pledge. Now some of them feel boxed in and want flexibility to cut a deal. The criticism from some is that they want to cave without demanding any real concessions. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) is leading the charge of criticizing Republicans who want to raise taxes. His argument is that budgets need to be balanced and taxes cut to spur economic growth.
At any rate, it’s obvious we have a spending crisis in Washington not a crisis stemming from a lack of revenue. More revenue won’t cure the ailment that plagues Washington.
At this hour, it seems that the number of leaders who are making the moral argument on the rights of Americans to keep more of their property is rapidly dwindling. Strong economic conservatives like Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan made impressive moral arguments about the importance of low taxes in a free society. It not only makes economic sense but it makes sense morally. And for the record, if a politician signed his name to a pledge he or she should show some backbone and principle by honoring his word. Property and taxes are important issues, but today there is little leadership on the issue, especially the kind of moral leadership this nation desperately needs.
Quoting former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Mitt Romney was right to make the point that the federal deficit is the biggest national security threat to our country. Romney has also been critical of President Obama for failing to resolve significant cuts to defense spending under the Budget Control Act. Both political parties agree these cuts would be a disaster and they were implemented primarily as a motivational mechanism for real budget reform.
While cuts to defense will not solve our budget crisis, considering the depth of our spending mess, defense cuts can’t be ruled out entirely. Acton’s own principles for budget reform declare, “While no federal spending measures should be immune from cuts, our funding priorities should reflect the constitutional responsibilities and duties of the federal government.”
The defense budget was raised dramatically over the last decade to combat terrorism and fight two wars. Certainly as some forces draw down, savings can be made along with new investments for national defense and readiness. At home, we also have a moral obligation to care for our wounded warriors, which I addressed at greater length in a 2009 commentary, “Veterans First on Health Care.”
The challenge of course is securing savings while not compromising our constitutional charge to defend the country. Defense spending and defense budgets are a complex subject, but there are areas for savings. The military has a fairly long tradition of acting in one degree or another as a social laboratory. Military social programs continue to swallow up even more of the defense budget. I leave you with these words offered by Allen Baker in a discussion I had with him this morning. Baker, a combat veteran, served as a naval aviator:
We are three aircraft carriers short of providing absolute minimum coverage. When the “Arab Spring” sprung, guess what wasn’t in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in a half-century? (Hint for Pres Obama: It’s a ship where airplanes take off and land). Ditto when terrorists murdered our ambassador in Benghazi. No U.S. carriers nearby (despite the clearly elevated threat). That’s because we have too few, and the ones we have are either worn out, or are wearing out at a faster-than-programmed rate due to the extremely high operations-tempo . . .
They are building multi-million dollar child development centers in places like Columbus, Miss. while the Training Squadrons have broken jets sitting idly on the ramp for lack of parts and maintenance . . .
The Army needs new tanks. Smaller, faster, cheaper. New helicopters, too. Less child development and ‘total warrior support’ and just more warriors and weapons. Simple stuff, really.
“I was Hungry and You . . . Called your Congressman” is a good report from Kristin Rudolph over at the IRD blog. The article covers Bread for the World president David Beckmann’s comments to a group of “emergent Christians” in Washington D.C.
From the piece:
Beckmann lamented that “very little progress has been made against poverty and hunger” in the US over the past few decades. This, he explained, is because ”we haven’t had a president who’s made the effort” to address hunger since President Lyndon Johnson launched the “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he said, every administration since Johnson has prioritized other issues ahead of solving poverty and hunger. Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow. Further, he said “the states cannot do it [address poverty] without the federal government. The federal government has real power and authority and we have to use that.”
Rudolph ably addresses many of the problems in Beckmann’s argument. The religious left and its insatiable appetite for more government continues to neglect the underlying issues of poverty.
Bread for the World has been highlighted on the PowerBlog specifically by Jordan Ballor in “The Politics of Hunger.” The appetite to solve hunger will be unfulfilled for any organization where its primary mission is to look towards the federal government. Beckmann, perhaps unknowingly, has made one good point though, government is now such a bloated bureaucracy, it can no longer prioritize or achieve goals.
Napp Nazworth, a reporter for Christian Post, interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico about House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget plan, “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal.” Nazworth asked Rev. Sirico, Acton’s president and co-founder, to talk about how closely Ryan’s plan lines up with Catholic social teaching, as the Republican budget chair has claimed, and to speak to criticisms of the plan. “A group of about 60 politically liberal Christian leaders wrote a letter taking exception to Ryan’s comments, calling it ‘morally indefensible,’” the reporter wrote. “In an interview with The Christian Post, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also said the Ryan budget is in opposition to Catholic teaching.”
Nazworth: Ryan said that subsidiarity is essentially federalism and that the budget considered the poor and vulnerable by reducing or cutting programs that lead the poor to become dependent on government. Did Ryan seem to understand those Catholic doctrines correctly?
Sirico: Subsidiarity is not “essentially” federalism. There is a dimension of federalism that reflects some of the values of subsidiarity. But, federalism is a political structure. And, subsidiarity is more of a social and theological principle, so that federalism speaks about one way of governing people. You could have subsidiarity in a society that didn’t live under an American form of government.
There is a kinship. I wouldn’t say it is essentially the same, but there is a kinship between the two, that you should leave things to people who know best. The motivation of subsidiarity is that human needs are complex and sometimes very nuanced. When you pull back and make human needs abstract, you don’t get to the core of what the need is, so that people closest to human need can make that determination better than bureaucrats or politicians that have other pressures and motivations far away from the person who is actually in need.
Read “Catholic Priest on Ryan Budget and Church Doctrine” by Napp Nazworth on Christian Post.
On Forbes, Doug Bandow surveys how both the religious left and religious right are using explicit faith teachings and moral arguments in the federal budget and spending battles:
Does God really insist that no program ever be eliminated and no expenditure ever be reduced if one poor person somewhere benefits? Perhaps that is the long lost 11th Commandment. Detailed in the long lost book of Hezekiah.
The budget does have moral as well as practical implications. However, as Ryan Messmore of the Heritage Foundation observed, “The budget is indeed a moral document, but it is also a morally complex document.” The fact that one is poor does not entitle one to any specific form or level of government benefits.
David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World—which actually lobbies government for more government spending rather than provides food for the world’s poor—stated that “there’s a lot in the Bible that says you have to help poor people.” That’s right. That “we” have to help the poor. Not that we have to force others to help.
Yet, as Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy noted, these groups “aren’t calling for individuals to shed their wealth for God’s Kingdom. Of course, they primarily want an all powerful state to seize and redistribute wealth according to some imagined just formula, after which the lion will lie peaceably with the lamb. It’s a utopian dream, not based on the Gospels, always monstrous when attempted, and premised more on resentment than godly generosity.”
Concern for the poor permeates Scripture, but nowhere does God set forth the means to achieve this end.
Read “God: The Shakedown Artist For The Welfare State?” on Forbes. (HT: RealClearReligion).
Also see the special Acton resource page: Principles for Budget Reform.
In “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” investor Warren Buffett, one of the world’s wealthiest men, makes a case for upping the tax rate on the “mega-rich” in America. In a response published on National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that “this is a broken record that Mr. Buffett has taken to re-playing over the past five years.” He points out that the U.S. tax system is already heavily progressive (no pun intended) and that the label “mega-rich” may not be as obvious as Buffett would like us to believe:
It’s safe to say that a substantial number of these people operate small-to-medium-size businesses that don’t play the corporate welfare game a la General Electric, that are already subject to some of the world’s highest corporate tax rates (most of which is paid by the owners of companies), that reinvest much of their income in expanding their activities and taking on new risk, and, above all, that employ people. They are the engine of growth and employment in America today — not the United States government. Why on earth would we disincentivize them from creating value and jobs by raising their taxes?
Read Samuel Gregg’s “Taxing Warren Buffett” on NRO.
The recent budget battle may have sparked new questions for Americans to answer, such as what is poverty and who falls under such a classification? Furthermore, due to its massive debt, government may need a limited role in helping the poor. While Christians who stood behind the Circle of Protection advocated for the protection of programs they claim that benefit the poor, other Christians looked at the debate differently arguing for another way to help the poor. However, despite how we decide to help the poor, is our understanding of what it means to be poor misleading?
In the Washington Examiner, Thomas Sowell answers this question with a resounding yes as he explains how the definition of poverty has been politicized and changed:
Each of us may have his own idea of what poverty means, especially those of us who grew up in poverty. But what poverty means politically and in the media is whatever the people who collect statistics choose to define as poverty.
This is not just a question of semantics. The whole future of the welfare state depends on how poverty is defined. “The poor” are the human shields behind whom advocates of ever-bigger spending for ever-bigger government advance toward their goal.
If poverty meant what most people think of as poverty — people who are “ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-nourished,” in FDR’s phrase — there would not be nearly enough people in poverty today to justify the vastly expanded powers and runaway spending of the federal government.
Sowell goes further in-depth in his column supporting his arguments with a study from the Heritage Foundation which shows what it means to be “poor” in America.
Using the same study from the Heritage Foundation, Anthony Bradley argues in World Magazine that we need wealth creation to help the poor. Bradley explains how being poor in a wealthy nation is drastically different from being poor in a developing one:
“As the rich get richer, the poor get richer”
That may sound like a ridiculous overstatement but it’s true in the sense that nations that create wealth redefine what it means to be poor. Being poor in a wealthy nation is radically different than being poor in a developing one. The above statement also challenges the zero-sum myth: “As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” which has so tainted the understanding of economic imaginations of those in the West.
In fact, to be more specific, 99.6 percent of individuals the federal government defines as “poor” have refrigerators, 97.7 percent have televisions, 78.3 percent live in homes with air-conditioning, and 62 percent live in homes with washing machines. These percentages are only possible in a nation as wealthy as the United States; it certainly is not the case in Sudan.
Political liberals and progressive Christians are vulnerable to accepting zero-sum ideology without taking the time to test those theories against real data and facts. The argument here is not that American poverty is “OK”; the point is to highlight the fact that making public policy decisions about “helping the poor” and “ending poverty” in America needs to take into account how “the poor” actually live in reality. Otherwise we will continue to miss the mark and not help the truly disadvantaged. Our public policy needs to be directed toward people who are truly suffering and stuck in cycles of poverty so that we create the conditions that allow for the possibility of sustainable economic mobility.
Bradley raises a valid point, and based on what it means to be “poor” in America is there an injustice and disservice being committed to the poor in developing countries?
Both authors demonstrate the battle is over how we definite what it means to be poor. Unfortunately though, we are now faced with asking ourselves how politics have affected our definition of poverty, and, with the politicization of poverty, have we forgotten what it really means to be disadvantaged? In terms of what poverty means, the questions we face are not easy to answer, they’ll need a prudential approach rooted in Christian values.
In my 2009 commentary addressing the nation’s debt crisis I included words from Admiral James B. Stockdale. The full quote comes from an essay on public virtue from the book Thoughts of A Philosophical Fighter Pilot. In his 1988 publication, Stockdale declared:
Those who study the rise and fall of civilizations learn that no shortcoming has been surely fatal to republics as a dearth of public virtue, the unwillingness of those who govern to place the value of their society above personal interest. Yet today we read outcries from conscientious congressman disenchanted with the proceedings of their legislative body and totally disgusted with the log-jamming effect of their peers’ selfish and artful distancing of themselves from critical spending cutbacks, much needed belt-tightening legislation without which the long-term existence of our republic itself is endangered.
The religious left, on cue, descended to the temple of irresponsible spending to circle the sacred debt wagons. I’ve already addressed the problems of baptizing Christ into the big government for the poor mantra. Just to briefly add to that, we have a $1.5 trillion deficit this year alone. Our total national debt is just over $14.5 trillion. The annual federal budget was $1.86 trillion in 2001. This year the budget is estimated to end up at $3.82 trillion. For the mathematically challenged prophets circling Washington, that number has more than doubled in one decade.
Is robbing our citizenry and its future inhabitants of opportunity the best we can do for the poor and for the common good? Is the crumbling failed experiment of government as overseer and caretaker the best the nation has to offer those who are marginalized and need help? Because if the answer is feeding a government that has grossly mismanaged all the income it collects by continually extending its credit limit then we suffer from the poverty of sense and ideas.
If it is not the answer, then unfortunately some clerics in Washington are using the poor as pawns or calves in their temple sacrifice to protect their ideological god who needs another “revenue” boost before it comes crashing down like a toddler after a sugar high. The fact that so many religious leaders are stoked up about necessary budget cuts only serves as a reminder of just how big, bloated, and politically useful big government has become.