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  • Stewardship, Compassion, Justice and the U.S. Budget Crisis

    Stewardship, compassion, and justice have been mentioned frequently in recent Christian commentary on our national fiscal crisis, and rightly so. Budgets are indeed moral documents; for example, it is wrong to pass down $200,000 in public debt to each child born today.

    These principles of stewardship, compassion, and justice have been well-established in serious conversation about the budget crisis for some time. That kind of dialogue has been taking place for years through the efforts of The Heritage Foundation and partnerships like the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. The tour has included more than 40 public forums around the country for about five years, including Heritage experts Stuart Butler and Alison Fraser, along with analysts from the Brookings Institution, through the bipartisan sponsorship of the Concord Coalition.

    These expert voices from across the political spectrum have helped explain the reality of unsustainable U.S. deficit levels caused by entitlement spending so that more Americans can discern the values at stake in this massive problem and work together toward tackling it.

    Now some on the left are appealing explicitly to biblical argument in the budget debate. Calling on biblical principles is a welcome development, since they can illuminate the values that should inform the conversation. But concluding that Christian concepts like justice, compassion, and stewardship call for preservation of the welfare state status quo is the wrong approach.

    Instead, biblical principles should challenge the status quo to see how it measures up on some basic Christian assumptions, including an understanding of:

    • The nature and purpose of human beings;
    • What true human flourishing is, and conversely, the real nature of poverty;
    • How various institutions are ordained by God to play different roles in helping human beings to overcome poverty and to flourish in community.

    How should a biblical understanding of these ideas shape an approach to the budget crisis? It means starting the conversation on government spending by focusing first on the character of spending, before the quantity of spending.

    This means asking of each taxpayer-funded program: Is it a program or activity that government is designed to provide? What is the objective? Is it effective at accomplishing that objective? If the answers are satisfactory, then let’s decide how much to spend on that priority. If not, then we should be asking how to reform or eliminate it.

    This line of reasoning was elaborated by Stuart Butler, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Policy Innovation, in a December lecture on how to protect the poor in the midst of the challenging fiscal decisions before us now. Failing to address the crisis will put the poor at risk first, he explains. We must address the crushing growth of entitlement spending, and that means getting our policy priorities straight.

    “We cannot and should not provide defined social insurance benefits [like Medicare and Social Security] to people who don’t need them,” says Dr. Butler. Instead, our approach to entitlement reform should put “greater emphasis on true insurance against hard times and much less emphasis on providing benefits for all.” Americans should be free from the fear of poverty in their old age, which is much different from the stream of defined benefits that people have today.

    We also need to look at the character of U.S. anti-poverty programs. The number of food stamp recipients has doubled in the last decade to more than 44 million. When one out of seven people depends on the government for food subsidies, can we be satisfied with the state of human flourishing in America?

    Success in anti-poverty programs should be measured not in how much we spend, but in how many Americans escape dependence on government funding to lead more productive and satisfying lives. Protecting the status quo of failed anti-poverty programs neither does justice to the poor nor ennobles those who champion those programs without regard to their results.

    Current federal anti-poverty programs diagnose human need primarily as a lack of material resources. As we’ve explained in a small group study guide on the subject, Seek Social Justice, that approach diminishes our understanding of compassion for the poor. Poverty in America is often linked to relational breakdown—the absence of fathers, the fracturing of communities. Relational restoration will require the institutions of civil society—especially families and churches—to bring their unique resources to the challenge of overcoming poverty.

    The budget crisis is one of the toughest challenges our nation has ever had to face. Discerning the wise application of biblical and constitutional principles is essential for the road ahead.

    Related: Jennifer Marshall discussed how biblical principles of stewardship and concern for the poor should shape efforts to reduce the nation’s debt burden for future generations at an American Enterprise Institute Debate on April 20. Watch online at: http://www.aei.org/event/100388.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Stewardship, Compassion, Justice and the U.S. Budget Crisis

    1. Dan says:

      I find it amazing that a discussion of the budget crisis can not include the 30 or more % of waste and fraud in all these programs or even the over staffing, political favors and inefficiencies of delivery. Why can't a fixed service delivery to the actual needy be discussed? waste fraud and excesses are not a fixed %, they will increase or decrease. Projecting that they stay the same is not understanding systems. Additionally, the poor-dependent who have been trained by the system must have time and incentives to find a path to self-sustainability. It would be less than Christian to instantly remove support even from someone who is not truly in need, but who has developed a dependancy. I also find it unusual that there is not a moral look at these systems to have some description of the immorality of a system that invites living at the expense of others. The spirit of Christianity would lead you to believe those who create guilt, sin or sloth may be less Christina than those engaged in the behaviors. Stewardship must have a wisdom component.

    2. George Colgrove VA says:

      Steps needed to be taken to stop our endless dive into debt.

      1. Go out to the road

      2. Dig a 3-inch diameter hole, 2.5-inches deep

      3. Mix a high grade, high strength Epoxy cement according to manufacturer’s instructions

      4. Place Epoxy cement in hole 1 inch deep

      5. Place can in hole and ensure the can and wall of hole is fully in contact with cement.

      6. Apply additional Epoxy cement if necessary to completely fill the void between the wall of the hole and can.

      7. Apply the epoxy cement 0.25 inches thick in a circle centered around the can with a radius of six feet.

      8. Sprinkle shared glass on cement bed

      9. Let cement cure

      10. Then allow congress to try to kick the can down the road.

      CUT THE SIZE/SCOPE/SLOTH/COST OF GOVERNMENT – NOW!

      We can no longer kick the can down the road. Federal revenue for FY11 has been a little over a trillion. Meaning we have yet to collect a trillion dollars for the remainder of the year. Can we try to keep within that for the rest of the year without increasing the debt ceiling? This is an emergency – I think we need to cut back to federal “essential” workers.

      At some point, this spending has to stop. The longer we put off the decision, the worse the pill will be. We need the federal workforce to adhere to the oath of office they gave to the American citizen. The enemy of the constitution is the debt and the debt has to be defeated.

      We can look at all the projections we want, but so far the feds have been unreasonably overly optimistic. Since 2001, their hopes have not meet reality. We need to look at what is real – not conceived. That is the very premise why we are where we are. The very base of Keynesian economics is hope and projections. Keynesian economics has little to do with reality, except when used in emergency cases in a onetime hit and with little deficit funding. Keynesian economics was never intended for supporting $14.3 trillion national debts.

      In reality, the can has been kicked to the end of the road. It is in the grass. No one can find it. The federal workforce took advantage of the 9/11 crisis. Their umbers grew and their compensation skyrocketed. We the people trusted them and they failed us. It is clear DC is built upon legislated greed. This country will pay for that greed for generations. No one in government understands what a mess we are in – they have spent to long and too much to have a clue how bad things are. To pay back $14.3 trillion we will need the DoD’s budget annually. What the federal workforce has done to feed their greed has not only required the federal government to only spend what it takes in, but also they have lost the equivalent of the DoD budget. What this means is the federal budget will have to be less than $2.2 trillion (taxes) – $750 billion (interest and principal) leaving around $1.5 trillion or a cut of 61% of current spending! IT HAS TO HAPPEN THERE IS NO MORE MONEY TO TAX!!! THERE IS NO MORE MONEY TO SPEND!!! WHAT ELSE NEEDS TO BE SAID?!?!?

    3. charles novak, Flore says:

      establishing a budget requires knowledge of both income and expenses. attempting to create a budget by assuming that income will be stable is essentially not realistic. Federal incomes tend to be a 'wag' at best. estimates can vary due to many variables.

      seems to me that gdp is the most 'accurate' guess of income so it stands to reason thatgdp should be the base line whereby tax revenues can be estimated.

      If so a percentage of gdp could be used to establish a federal tax rate that matches expenses. federal expenses could be determined and a budget, a more reasonable tax rate could be determined. additional federal taxes, i.e., import duties,fuel,communications, etc. would then be available to pay the actual cost of operating the federal goverment agencies and congress. I suspect that expenses are more predictable than income but both income and expenses could be massaged each fiscal year and balance the budget.

    4. George Colgrove VA says:

      From October to March, the federal workforce spent $1.849 trillion. This is 43.2% over last year’s spending in the same period.

      From October to March, tax collection has been $1.020 trillion. This is 6.9% over last year’s revenue in the same period.

      If we apply the revenue ratio to the remaining months from last year’s revenue we can expect to get the following for the rest of FY11:

      April – $262.2 Billion

      May – $157.0 Billion

      June – $268.4 Billion

      July – $166.3 Billion

      August – $175.3 Billion

      September – $262.2 Billion

      Total expected remaining revenue will be $1.291 trillion.

      For a FY11 budget of $3.7 trillion (nothing was cut) remaining spending is supposed to be $1.85 trillion

      If this is distributed in a similar outlay as FY10, then spending will look like:

      April – $339.8 Billion

      May – $292.9 Billion

      June – $331.0 Billion

      July – $332.1 Billion

      August – $263.7 Billion

      September – $289.9 Billion

      This puts us over by $560 billion or a little over 15.1% of the budget.

      To stay within the debt limit we will need to cut out of the budget for each month the following:

      April – $77.5 Billion

      May – $135.9 Billion

      June – $62.5 Billion

      July – $165.8 Billion

      August – $88.3 Billion

      September – $27.7 Billion

      Considering these cuts will be cumulative, to stay within the debt limit we would need to make the following permanent budgetary cuts:

      April – $77.5 Billion

      May – $58.4 Billion

      July – $29.9 Billion

      Using this model, the cuts we are talking about are not draconian. A 15% across the bord cut will take care of the rest of the year. If we wait it will get worse.

      Of course we are done with April, so if we were to start cutting in May, it is only going to be worse. Not sure what the treasury department will report how much we spent in April.

    5. Leon Lundquist, Dura says:

      Jennifer, thanks. I can't count the number of times I have worked my way out of poverty! Before Progressive Socialism took hold in America, our People knew how to work their way out! And maybe we had to do that once or twice! But your point is so very true, it is a Religious matter when Progressives in Government interfere with personal growth! Once again, We Are Sovereign Citizens in America! We are at Liberty Under God! (And no one else!) Having the Government take care of people is against Christian Principles, we are His creative Children! That means we should have the Freedom to work out our own Salvation! Nature says we keep the abilities we develop! What if we never develop abilities?

      Charity is a great teacher! The Rich learn something wonderful in their charitable activities! But Government Nanny State (Judge Vinson called it Nobless Oblige) is the Enforcement of Charity! And it loses its Religious value. Nothing to learn but "Damn the stupid Government!" That's a fine lesson, but Charity is hollow when Government does it! It isn't Charity it is Theft! It is horrible that Doctors of Conscience can be forced to sell the Morning After Pill against their Religious Beliefs! The same kind of attack on Religion can be seen there too! I think the Progressives are doing their own Jihad! They are imposing Secular Humanism, and really, if you want a job? It is conversion at the point of a sword!

    6. Lloyd Scallan (New O says:

      Do we not yet understand that the left will always use any and all means at their

      disposal to continue to buy votes for the Democrat Party. That includes relegion, The Bible, Christanity, and Christan vaules. Government is their God. Dan gets it right. The amount of fraud and waste in the welfare system is deliberatey allowed

      to continue supporting those that will not help themseles, yet no one will address

      or ever discuss this part of the "crises". Whenever anyone tries, the left release their attack dogs.

    7. Mike, Wichita Falls says:

      It pains me to see and hear within my own community even some charities that rely on government assistance at any level to support their budgets. I understand the schools require it but disapprove of federal assistance. How much of this federal assistance to charities or schools is real home-grown money? It's all borrowed. We borrow money from the posterity of people we are trying to help, and really perpetuate the cycle of dependence. It sounds like a good plan to get votes and maintain power.

    8. R.J. Pomerene, Plymo says:

      There's nothing I can seriously disagree with in this piece. The only thing that gives me pause is the implication that this is a recent problem. When Ronald Reagan was elected I hoped that it would initiate a national and rational conversation about the role of government, what we want it to do and how we would propose to pay for it. It never happened (except in small corners such as Tsongas-Gregg-Concord Coalition circles. What we got instead was political parody — "no new taxes," "tax-and-spend Democrats" vs. "borrow-and-spend Republicans," "lower taxes and complain about the potholes." Straw men battling straw men. I was concerned about intentional deficit creation right from the beginning of the "starve-the-beast" approach in President Reagan's first term. What we see today is the fruition of "starve-the-beast." This has been a great political victory for the anti-New Deal, anti-Great Society forces. Whether it will lead to a great national and rational conversation about what we want government to do and how we plan to pay for it remains an open question. I personally doubt it will happen. I think that we — like all great powers in history — will lurch from one unintended consequence to another, amid great political racket and righteousness — to our eventual diminution. As to substance, today — Paul Ryan, Medicare vouchers, Medicaid block grants? — puh-lease. Why would I consent to have my share of federal taxes go to states and individuals for these purposes? Don't you think we the American people who pay taxes are tired of subsidizing through government funding the medical care of those who won't or can't pay for their medical care themselves, or convince a charity or private benefactor to provide it? Why would the subsidy be any more acceptable if in the form of vouchers and block grants? If I live in a state that pays more than the average in federal taxes, do you think I want that money to go to states that contribute little by comparison? One advantage of limiting the federal government and reducing federal taxation is that my money can stay closer to home and benefit my state and its people and not some distant low-income, low-contribution state. Do you think I want Congress deciding how much of my money goes to other states besides my own? If you want to get the federal government out of the health care business, get rid of Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, NIH, CDC, PHS, FDA, USDA food inspections, OSHA!! Also get rid of uncompensated care pools that impose a de facto tax on people who pay for health insurance and/or their own medical bills. No more requirements on medical providers to provide care to those who cannot pay. Of course, they can do so if they want to, but not because of a legal requirement. And no more tax deductions for medical expenses. No more tax deductions for so-called "charitable" contributions to churches, hospitals, schools. Get the federal government out of it all! And don't get me started on federal flood insurance, federal deposit insurance, rural electrification in the 1930's, the Interstate Highway system, the federalization of criminal law, Roe v. Wade or Bush v. Gore, and other such federal usurpations. I have many more "immodest proposals" to shrink government and empower private initiative, but I think this is enough for now. Thank you.

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