The budget that any government proposes reveals clearly the priorities that it has decided to pursue in the coming year or sometimes over a longer period. Budget discussions are due to start in Washington soon after the fall session begins next month.
Unlike the recent Healthcare fiasco where the President rounded on the Republican congressional leaders for their failure to pass a bill while he himself had no alternative proposal, he has spoken clearly about a detailed White House plan that represents his values in the upcoming budget negotiations.
First he wants a massive $800 billion cut in mandatory spending over the next ten years. Nearly all of these cuts come in programs that help the poor, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP – which used to be known as the food stamp program) and Supplemental Security Income(SSI) which is designed to help the elderly and the disabled.
Consider who these cuts will impact most. Medicaid mostly helps the poor, but dollars from this program are used by States for a variety of programs. For instance, 70% of the people in nursing homes have all or part of the expensive cost of their care paid for from Medicaid funds. SNAP mostly benefits families with one wage-earner; the proposed cutbacks in this program end food stamp entitlement with the seventh offspring. It is hard to believe that such an egregious regulation, discriminating against big families, is being proposed by the party that constantly trumpets its pro-life commitment.
Another important dimension of this Trump proposal is his plan to increase the military budget by $43 billion. At the same time the President wants to make severe cuts to assistance for overseas development programs for poor countries. He also plans to reduce the diplomatic service, which operates out of the State Department, by more than 20%. All of this while the United Nations is warning about impending famines in countries in the Horn of Africa.
The President is also clear about the changes he wants in the tax code. His promise that all taxpayers will see a reduction in their annual tax liability is deceptive because it suggests equal treatment of everyone reporting to the IRS. In fact, millionaires and multi-millionaires will pay far less while the benefits to the average taxpayer will be miniscule.
The conservative rationale for this approach centers on the belief that when the rich get richer there are trickle-down benefits for the poor. This piece of convenient rationalization by the 1% who own over 90% of the wealth in America, was dealt with very trenchantly by Pope Francis when he said: “The promise was when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor, but what really happens is when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger. Nothing ever comes out for the poor.”
Mentioning the Pope highlights the fact that a budget is a highly moral document. There is a clear and unambiguous biblical mandate found repeatedly in both Testaments to protect poor and marginalized people. Cutting meager food stamp payments while giving more benefits to those who already have plenty is, at face biblical value, a moral monstrosity.
I read recently of a group of Christians from all denominations who are engaged in weekly prayer and fasting to protest the upcoming budget. In a public statement these admirable Christians wrote: “The biblical prophets remind us that how we treat the most marginal and vulnerable among us is the test of a nation’s moral righteousness. We have deep moral concerns about the way that this budget will impact those we are called to protect.”
Conservative groups in Congress and in the White House meet regularly for prayer breakfasts where they listen to preachers remind them of their ethical obligations. What story do they tell each other about the plight of poor people? Do they have some profound rationale, some deep moral perspective, that could justify slashing food stamp allowances by 25% or programs for the disabled by 20%?