Louisville

The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement today (Wednesday) in response to the bill signed by President Obama yesterday that will increase the debt-ceiling by more than $2 trillion and cut a roughly equivalent amount of spending from the U.S. budget.

In the statement, Parsons writes, “While I am pleased that the nation no longer faces the impending financial peril of default on our national debt, I am deeply troubled by the deficit-reduction package that Congress passed to get us to this place.”

According to Parsons, the budget package “does little to address the underlying causes of our mounting deficits.”

Parsons had joined a number of religious leaders in Washington the previous week to urge Congress “to enact a deficit-reduction plan that would require a greater contribution from those who have been blessed with plenty, and not to sacrifice the poor and vulnerable on the altar of political ideology or deficit reduction.”

The ecumenical and interfaith leaders had also reminded legislators that religious communities and charitable organizations do not have the resources to make up the difference between the spending cuts and the “growing and monumental need caused by a severe recession, anemic recovery, and systemic inequity.”

Parsons writes, “Private charity needs public partnership in order to answer our call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.”

The Stated Clerk acknowledges helpful measures within the bill – exemptions for low-income programs, as well as and a reduction in military spending, which will help to push the country toward seeking “new and innovative initiatives for peace around the world.”

Parsons concludes his statement by inviting Presbyterians to join the effort. “United by our shared commitment to Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and to the common good for our brothers and sisters around the world, we must urge our elected leaders to protect the vulnerable and restore equity in a society where imbalance of wealth has become the norm.”

The full text of the Stated Clerk’s statement:

This week, Congress approved and the President signed into law a bill that couples a $2.1-$2.4 trillion increase to the U.S. debt ceiling with about equivalent spending cuts. While I am pleased that the nation no longer faces the impending financial peril of default on our national debt, I am deeply troubled by the deficit-reduction package that Congress passed to get us to this place. With the enactment of this bill, we see ahead a few rays of light in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Together with our ecumenical and interfaith partners, the PC(USA) has been firm in calling on decision-makers in Washington to enact a plan for a just and compassionate budget. Last week, I joined other faith leaders to meet with Congressional leadership and their staff. During those meetings, we urged them to make responsible decisions that would protect the most vulnerable at home and around the world. We asked them to enact a deficit-reduction plan that would require a greater contribution from those who have been blessed with plenty, and not to sacrifice the poor and vulnerable on the altar of political ideology or deficit reduction. 

In addition, we reminded our elected leaders that we who engage in ministries of charity and mercy cannot meet the overwhelming need alone. Private charity needs public partnership in order to answer our call to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. As earnestly as we will try to fill gaps in services left by government spending cuts, we simply do not have the resources to respond to the growing and monumental need caused by a severe recession, anemic recovery, and systemic inequity.

The new law of the land is far from answering these concerns. On the contrary, it does little to address the underlying causes of our mounting deficits, while making severe cuts that will harm millions of people who depend on our humanitarian aid and the social safety net. It contains no increased revenues, fails to address the inequities in our tax code, and does not attempt to control growing health care costs. It places the burden of deficit reduction on programs that not only serve low-income and vulnerable people in the U.S., but also that provide international humanitarian aid, protect God’s good creation, conduct medical research, ensure food safety, and strengthen our transportation infrastructure. In short, programs that serve the common good are bearing the cost.

On a positive note, a significant portion of the spending cuts will likely come from the defense budget, thereby pushing our nation toward rethinking our defense strategy and seeking new and innovative initiatives for peace around the world. Likewise, exemptions for some low-income programs have also been included in the “enforcement” part of the bargain, protecting some important programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Unemployment Insurance from bearing the brunt of deficit reduction.

If nothing else is clear from the rancorous debate that culminated in this week’s final deal, it is that we still have a good deal of work to do. This deficit-reduction package sets up several deadlines by which Congress must meet more deficit reduction targets. This means that the Appropriations process ending in September as well as the deliberations of the new bipartisan, bicameral Joint Committee, which will meet throughout the fall, will be opportunities for us to continue raising the voice of the poor and vulnerable at home and around the world. In achieving exemptions for some low-income programs and in convincing Members of Congress to consider “the least of these,” we have achieved much. We must build on this success to lift up programs and services that make a difference in the lives of people across the world: people in our pews, in our neighborhoods, in our partner churches, and in our global community.

I invite Presbyterians to join me in this effort. United by our shared commitment to Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, and to the common good for our brothers and sisters around the world, we must urge our elected leaders to protect the vulnerable and restore equity in a society where imbalance of wealth has become the norm.