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Mercy Declaration Inspires Advocacy on Federal Budget

July 11, 2011

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

A few phrases from the Sisters of Mercy’s declaration that came out of their recent governance meeting keep coming to me as I fret over news of deficit-reduction talks and of a proposal for a Balanced Budget Amendment.

The Sisters’ declaration issues a challenge to be faithful to the Gospel and to the legacy of their foundress, Catherine McAuley, in the “dramatically evolving context of our Church and world.” “We are scandalized by the increase in the impoverishment of peoples, the pervasive denial of basic human rights, the degradation of Earth and increased violence and racism in all their forms,” the document states.

I read this as clearly urging us to speak out wherever and whenever we see injustice and disregard for the dignity of each person as created by God.

Right now there seems no more critically timely example of the need to inject the voice of Mercy than the ongoing discussion of how to reduce the nation’s deficit and debt.

Some legislators are determined not to raise taxes, instead standing fast in their determination to cut their way to a balanced budget at the expense of programs that serve persons who are poor and vulnerable. Other legislators are standing fast in opposition to any changes at all to Social Security and Medicare.

The Sisters of Mercy’s commitment to act in solidarity with the economically poor — as evidenced every day in their ministries in schools, hospitals, parishes and social service centers — and their commitment to nonviolence suggest some principles for responsibly reducing the federal deficit and debt.

(1) Ensure that any deficit-reduction package includes additional revenues. Most economists have agreed that reducing the deficit and debt will require both spending cuts and an increase in revenues;

(2) Consider significant cuts to the military budget. A bipartisan Sustainable Defense Task Force identified nearly $1 trillion in Pentagon budget savings that can be generated over the next ten years without compromising the essential security of the United States.

(3) Protect programs that provide basic assistance to low-income individuals and families from harmful spending cuts

To stand in solidarity with persons who are poor also suggests opposing the Balanced Budget Amendment that is now before the House of Representatives. While the concept of mandating that the federal government balance its revenues and expenditures sounds reasonable enough, the details are very worrisome.

The proposed amendment (H.J. Res 1) puts an annual cap on federal spending at 18 percent of GDP and requires a super-majority in the House and Senate to approve any new taxes, increase tax rates or increase total revenues. Even under President Reagan, federal expenditures averaged 22 percent of GDP — and that was before any members of the baby boom generation had retired, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks led policymakers to create a new category of homeland security spending, and before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to increases in veterans’ health costs that will last for decades. An 18-percent spending cap would require turning Medicare into a voucher program and raising its eligibility age to 67, raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, cutting core programs for those who are poor (including Medicaid) in half, and , by 2021, cutting domestic discretionary spending by about 70 percent. These fiscal constrains would also make it difficult to make important investments in infrastructure, education, alternative energy, employment-boosting efforts and other needs that may arise.

Please join us in contacting legislators to urge them to reduce the debt and deficit with a mixture of increased revenues and responsible spending cuts and to say “no” to the Balanced Budget Amendment. You may send a message to your members of Congress here.

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