Around the same time, the chairman of two U.S. bishop’s committees urged Congress not to ignore the moral dimensions of the debate, insisting: “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.”
As we all know, the debt deal was cut, the ceiling raised, and much of the heat of the debate has dissipated.
And that’s a shame, because this debate could have provoked an even greater conversation about the ethical imperative of a society to have concern for the least of these. Instead, many politicians closed their ranks, refusing even to consider closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy — insisting instead on cuts to the poor and the elderly, and those trying to move out of extreme poverty.
While I’m grateful that some of this conversation has continued in the “Your Views” section of the Tribune, I’m disappointed that in an area like the Tri-Cities, with such a large percentage of professed Christians, there is not more outrage that the politics of our nation have been hijacked by a group that insists the only topic for conversation can be cuts in spending without any question of increased revenues.
Let’s be clear: The 49 percent of the population who pay no income tax has grown significantly because of the Bush tax cuts — the number jumped 11 percent alone due to the 2008 rebate checks Bush signed into law.
Furthermore, over the past 30 years, tax rates for the wealthy have fallen even while their income has continued to grow at an astounding pace. The income of most workers — both those in the 49-percent group and also the vast majority of taxpayers — has barely outpaced inflation. To wit, the tax burden on the lower and middle class has not shrank nearly as much as the tax burden on the wealthy.
Once you add in job losses, pay cuts, reductions in benefits and now cuts to safety-net programs, you get a picture of an increasingly struggling poor and middle class and an increasingly wealthy upper class.
The key issue, I believe, is this increased income inequality. According to the CIA, our nation now ranks 93rd in income inequality, just behind countries like Iran and slightly ahead of impoverished nations like Rwanda. Fourteen percent of our nation lives below the poverty line (a family of four who makes less than $22,350 per year). That’s 44 million Americans — one in seven — more than at any other time since the Census began tracking poverty numbers.
In our state, almost 23 percent of children live below the poverty line.
Our nation certainly needs to get our fiscal house in order, to stop borrowing as a way of paying for massive consumption (not to mention two wars). However, to do so on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society is wrong, to do so while continuing to give tax breaks to the massively wealthy is wrong.
The Christian gospel is not about the poor and the rich all paying the same amount; throughout Scripture we read the call to those who have to give to those who do not. As Mary sang in Luke 1, when contemplating the impending arrival of the Messiah, “(The Almighty) has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
The question for each and every Christian, as we approach this next election year, is clear: Are we voting for politicians and policies that will feed the hungry, clothe the naked and care for the most vulnerable? After all, to do this is to care for Christ himself.
— By the Very Rev. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven.