The current budget and deficit debate in America is now dominating the daily headlines. There is even talk of shutting down the government if the budget-cutters don't get their way. There is no doubt that excessive deficits are a moral issue and could leave our children and grandchildren with crushing debt. But what the politicians and pundits have yet to acknowledge is that how you reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. As Sojourners said in the last big budget debate in 2005, "A budget is a moral document." For a family, church, city, state or nation, a budget reveals what your fundamental priorities are: who is important and who is not; what is important and what is not. It's time to bring that slogan back, and build a coalition and campaign around it.
The governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, says he only really cares about his budget deficit; however, it now appears that he proudly sees himself as the first domino in a new strategy for Republican governors to break their public employee unions. (We are already seeing similar actions in Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey.) Governor Walker's proposed bill is really more about his ideological commitments and conservative politics, which favor business over labor, than about his concern for Wisconsin's financial health. Thousands of working-class Americans are now protesting in the streets of Madison and have made this a national debate. Even protesters in Egypt are sending messages of hope (and pizzas) to the Wisconsin demonstrators.
The Republican governors' counter parts in the U.S. House of Representatives are also not cutting spending where the real money is, such as in military spending, corporate tax cuts and loop holes, and long term health-care costs. Instead, they are cutting programs for the poorest people at home and around the world. This is also just political and not genuine fiscal conservatism. It is a direct attack on programs that help the poor and an all-out defense of the largesse handed out to big corporations and military contractors. If a budget is a moral document, these budget-cutters show that their priorities are to protect the richest Americans and abandon the poorest -- and this is an ideological and moral choice. The proposed House cuts, which were just sent to the Senate, are full of disproportionate cuts to initiatives that have proven to save children's lives and overcome poverty, while leaving untouched the most corrupt and wasteful spending of all American tax dollars -- the Pentagon entitlement program. This is not fiscal integrity; this is hypocrisy.
U.S. military spending is now 56 percent of the world's military expenditures and is more than the military budgets of the next 20 countries in the world combined. To believe all that money is necessary for genuine American security is simply no longer credible. To say it is more important than bed nets that prevent malaria, vaccines that prevent deadly diseases, or child health and family nutrition for low-income families is simply immoral. Again, these are ideological choices, not smart fiscal ones. To prioritize endless military spending over critical, life-saving programs for the poor is to reverse the biblical instruction to beat our swords into plowshares. The proposed budget cuts would beat plowshares into more swords. These priorities are not only immoral, they are unbiblical.
Now some members of Congress seem to want to force a government showdown over all this. They are saying there will be no shared sacrifice for the rich, only sacrifices from the poor and middle-class, or we will shut down the government. The only people whose lives have returned to normal in America are the ones who precipitated our financial and economic crisis in the first place. They have all returned to record profits, while many others are still struggling with unemployment, stagnant wages, loss of benefits, home foreclosures and more. These representatives are claiming that we should restore fiscal integrity by protecting all the soaring billionaires, while forcing the already-squeezed to make more and more concessions.
Let me offer a word to those who see this critique as partisan. I've had good friendships with Republican members of Congress, but not the kind who get elected by their party anymore. But let's be clear, when politicians attack the poor, it is not partisan to challenge them -- it is a Christian responsibility.
This is wrong, this is unjust, this is vile, and this must not stand. Next week, thanks to your support, look for a full-page ad in Politico signed by faith leaders and organizations across the country that asks Congress a probing question: "What would Jesus cut?" These proposed budget cuts are backwards, and I don't see how people of faith can accept them. And we won't.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.