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Budgets are Moral Documents Part II: Real Security

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In a meeting of religious leaders this week with a number of U.S. senators, one senator opened the meeting by saying, we agree with you that budgets are moral documents, and that's what we want to talk about today.

As Congress begins this year's budget debate, we reminded the senators that for years the faith community has fought bad budget priorities, trying to preserve commitments to the poorest. We know that what is needed is a vast re-prioritization of people, especially poor and working families, children, and the elderly. We need bold leadership and an agenda that sets clear priorities and seeks to empower families. We need to protect critical programs and increase aid, but also recommit ourselves to the notion of the common good.

Our country is off track, and security - national and economic - is in jeopardy. President Bush seems not to be paying attention. By ignoring the common good, his fiscal year 2008 budget misses an opportunity to correct the course. The new Democratic leadership in Congress has its chance to create a budget that redefines notions of opportunity, fairness, and security. This requires protecting existing supports, but also linking those commitments to a vision for more just public policy goals. A moral budget is the first step, one that should be followed by bold legislative agendas.

President Bush's budget seeks more tax cuts for the rich. This represents misguided priorities, but also missed opportunities to help the working poor. When the minimum wage is increased that will be one step toward making work "work." But low-income tax policies (increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), expanding the Child Care Tax Credit) will help working families even more. Our nation needs a commitment to a living family income, in which a combination of a family's earnings and supports for basic needs provide a decent standard of living. Those unable to work should be supported with dignity.

President Bush's budget ignores the energy and creative thinking in the states about child health care and universal care. Instead of cutting Medicaid and Medicare, these supports should be strengthened. Further, child health care should be expanded to reach all eligible children as step one of a bold commitment to reduce child poverty by half over the next 10 years.

And how can the president propose to cut food stamps yet again when it is one of the most important and efficient tools for supporting low-income children, working families, the elderly, and the disabled? Congress should improve the food stamp program as part of the Farm Bill so that all eligible families receive increased support.

Many of President Bush's programs to reduce international hunger and poverty should be supported. And Congress can help the common good more by reauthorizing the Farm Bill to uphold fair international trade rules and improve nutrition supports. Support for the Millennium Development Goals is also critical. These are down payments on eliminating extreme global poverty.

Our nation needs the affirmation that budgets are moral documents, but also that leaders are willing to commit to a vision of recovering some of our nation's greatness. We must hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, and think about the realities and ramifications of the war in Iraq: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

We need moral budgets, and we need vision for economic justice. We call on the new Congress to change course. Show that you care about people in this country by securing priorities and pursuing vision. Let your actions speak as loud as your words, and the faith community will stand with you - and help hold you accountable.