Addressing the Moral Concern of Deficits through Principle, Not Politics
A Statement on the Fiscal Cliff from Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
December 11, 2012
I write as Congress considers a solution to the so-called fiscal cliff. The fiscal decisions we make at the national level indicate where our priorities are as a community. So, I urge members of Congress, as well as President Obama and his Administration, to put first and foremost in their negotiations those people who are already struggling with poverty, inequality, and injustice.
In 2008, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly said of the U.S. budget crisis: “creat[ing] ever-increasing debt and unfunded or underfunded obligations for future generations of Americans are a grave moral concern as well as a clear danger to the republic.” The same Assembly further “call[ed] upon the church and the nation to study the policies and practices that have created this grave moral and economic crisis, to repent of the sins of greed and of stealing from future generations who cannot defend themselves, and to call upon our citizens and national leaders to make the sacrifices necessary to begin to solve this problem before it is too late.”
I, therefore, urge Congress to address this grave concern of long-term deficits by making decisions based on principle rather than politics. We abhor the prospect of leaving a legacy of mounting debt to future generations, and likewise believe that it would be equally irresponsible to leave the same descendants a legacy of increasing poverty and inequality.
It is clear that we cannot achieve comprehensive, just, deficit reduction only by cutting spending. Even significantly re-envisioning our military priorities, which is also essential, will not be enough. We must have new federal revenues to address our long-term deficits – new revenue that must be raised through a more progressive tax code. In this way, we can both reduce our federal deficit and ensure adequate resources to make necessary investments for future generations.
We further challenge the notion that entitlement reform must contribute to deficit reduction. We believe that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are part of our social insurance system, a compact between generations that must be preserved for future beneficiaries, as well as current ones. The goal of any reform to these essential programs must be their long-term fiscal sustainability and improved efficiency. Should deficit reduction result from well-intentioned reform – all the better – but these programs are not the primary contributors to the deficit, nor should they be primary sources for deficit reduction. Again, we believe that the grave moral concern of the federal deficit must be addressed in a balanced and comprehensive way.
As Presbyterians, we are anxious that our national decisions reflect our commitments as a people. We are called by a loving and gracious God to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We know that we are responsible to each other and, as the Gospel of Luke teaches us, “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” We, therefore, urge a solution to the fiscal cliff and federal deficit that ensures long-term fiscal stability; deficit reduction; just, new revenue; long-term integrity for entitlement programs; and a priority on the most vulnerable in society.