Without Vision The People Perish

The biblical prophets frequently spoke to rulers and kings. They spoke to the nations, and it is the powerful that are most often the target audience; those in charge of things are the ones called to greatest accountability. The prophets spoke on behalf of the dispossessed, the widows ( read poor single moms!) and the orphans, the hungry, the homeless, the helpless : the least, last and lost. They spoke to a nation's priorities.

Budgets are moral documents that reflect ones values and priorities. They tell us what is most important and valued to those making up the budget. President Bush says that his 2006 budget "is a budget that sets priorities." Examining those priorities : who will benefit and who will suffer : is a moral and religious concern. Just as we have "environmental impact" studies for public policies, it is time for a "poverty impact statement" asking the fundamental question of how policy proposals affect low-income people. We could start with this budget and do a "values audit" to determine how its values square with those of the American people. I believe this would reveal unacceptable priorities.

The cost of the deficit is increasingly borne by the poor. This budget projects a record $427 billion deficit, and promises to make tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest permanent. Religious communities spoke clearly in the past years about the perils of a domestic policy based primarily on tax cuts for the rich, program cuts for low-income people and an expectation of faith-based charity. We must speak clearly now about a budget lacking moral vision. A budget that scapegoats the poor and fattens the rich, that asks for sacrifice mostly from those who can least afford it, is a moral outrage!

Low-income people should not be punished for government decisions that place us in financial straits. Rather than moving toward a living family income, this budget stifles opportunities for low-income families that are vital for national economic security. Our future is in serious jeopardy if one in three proposed program cuts are to education initiatives (after a highly touted No Child Left Behind effort), if there will be less flexibility to include working poor families with children on Medicaid, and if reductions in community and rural development, job training, food stamps and housing are accepted as solutions for reducing the deficit. Cutting pro-work and pro-family supports for the less fortunate jeopardizes the common good. And all this while defense spending rises again to $419 billion : not including any additional spending for the war in Iraq.

These budget priorities would cause the prophets of old to rise up in righteous indignation, as should we. Our nation deserves better vision. Morally inspired voices must provide vision for the people when none comes from its leaders.

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