“Budgets,” Jim Wallis reminds us, “are always moral documents.”
The first test of that morality, explains the theologian who chairs the Global Agenda Council on Faith for the World Economic Forum, is how those with the least power, the fewest political connections and the greatest economic challenges fare. “Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor,” says Wallis. “Cuts should not come from the services and programs that people rely on now more than ever. The reality is that we have a lot of wasteful spending in our federal budget, but most of it does not come from things that help the most vulnerable people in our society.”
The president’s approach is far less draconian than was proposed last fall by the co-chairs of his deficit commission, who would have had the president consider processes of privatizing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obama is not proposing to raise the retirement age or to cut the benefits available to those who reach it. At the same time, he proposes new education spending and some needed investments in high-speed rail ($53 billion over the next six years), building a nationwide wireless network ($15.7 billion) and establishing a national infrastructure bank ($50 billion) that would encourage investment in needed projects to create jobs.
All that’s got House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, sputtering about how the president “is abdicating leadership on that point.”
The president counters: “I’ve called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years. This freeze would cut the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, bringing this kind of spending—domestic discretionary spending— to its lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.”
But the way to a moral budget is not to try to strike some sort of balance between the Ayn Rand–derived fantasies of Paul Ryan and the reality that millions of American families rely on programs paid for by that “domestic discretionary spending” to survive.
The way to a moral budget is to assure that the most vulnerable Americans are protected. At the very least, it should place more serious demands of the wealthy and Pentagon contractors than on low-income and working-class households. The Progressive Chance Campaign Committee gets to the heart of the matter when it suggests: “Every proposed cut to necessary programs like Pell Grants and heating for low-income seniors needs to be judged in the context of the unnecessary tax cuts for Wall Street millionaires that passed at the end of last year.”