Communities of faith must speak loud and clear: A federal budget that champions tax cuts for our nation's richest people while shredding the safety net for our nation's poorest people is not a moral budget. A federal budget that champions tax cuts for millionaires while slashing vital infrastructure and services such as education, environmental stewardship, affordable housing, and public health and safety, is not a moral budget.
Budget decisions made this year will have profound and lasting consequences. The federal budget is full of numbers, but behind those numbers are men, women and children around the country whose lives will be affected greatly by choices made in Washington. The president chooses to expand tax cuts for millionaires while making budget cuts that will result in more hunger, homelessness, ill health and hardship for millions of low-income workers, seniors, the unemployed, people with disabilities, and their families.
As the Children's Defense Fund points out, for the annual price of the tax cuts for millionaires - which will average $136,298 a year apiece when fully phased in - we could fund the following: health insurance for 3.1 million children; full immunizations for 6.8 million unimmunized infants and children; childcare places for nearly 736,000 children of working parents; Head Start programs for more than 641,000 poor preschool children; and nearly 145,000 new elementary school teachers.
Which is the moral choice? A $136,298 a year tax cut for millionaires, or childcare, health care and education for our nation's neediest children? As people of conscience, we cannot accept a budget that increases inequality, poverty and injustice. We cannot accept a budget that undermines our future.
Most Americans understand the lack of fairness behind these kinds of budget and tax cuts. Polls show that most Americans advocate spending more on education, health care and economic development instead of cutting taxes. Most also believe that upper-income people pay too little in federal taxes, not too much. They support universal health insurance coverage for everyone, a higher minimum wage and stronger environmental policies.
The president has it backwards. We should roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, not extend them. We should strengthen programs that help people survive and ensure our nation's progress, not cut them. The president's so-called "Ownership Society" would break the New Deal social contract of a partnership between government and our people to build a better society for everyone. It would withdraw from the War on Poverty, increasingly privatize Social Security and other public sector functions, and continue to transform the tax system into one that favors the privileged. The president's "Ownership Society" means less opportunity for the many and more ownership by the few.
Our country faces a fundamental choice. Should the United States revert to a pre-New Deal era where people are left to fend for themselves in the face of poverty, low wages, sickness, old age, and increasingly insecure jobs in the global economy? Or should we commit ourselves anew to the U.S. Constitution's promise to form a more perfect union, establish justice, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity?
Twenty national faith-based organizations including the Episcopal Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church/Board of Church and Society, and my own, the American Friends Service Committee, have issued an interreligious "Faith Reflection on the Federal Budget." We concluded, "Our government should be a tool to correct inequalities, not a means of institutionalizing them. The federal budget should share the burdens of taxation, according to one's ability to pay, and distribute government resources fairly to create opportunity for all."
We must champion a strong public-sector role in promoting the general welfare and providing for the common good. We must champion a federal budget that reflects widely shared values of human dignity, equal rights, economic security, fairness, opportunity, and stewardship. We must champion the course of justice.
Mary Ellen McNish is general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, a co-recipient of the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize. AFSC is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service.