Congress has a responsibility to create federal budgets that are both morally and economically responsible – budgets that address the needs of all, not just the moneyed few. Current House and Senate budget proposals fail to fulfill these requirements.
Sadly, this is nothing new. In response to the reality of years of skewed budget priorities, my organization (NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby) joined a coalition of 37 faith groups representing Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions. We came together to demand that our elected officials formulate federal budget priorities that promote the wellbeing of all, especially those who are poor and marginalized.
Working together, we crafted an interfaith vision of economic justice called the Faithful Budget that outlines the principles necessary for a just society and healthier world.
Though our faith traditions are distinct, we are all unified in recognizing that faithfulness is not an individual venture, but rather a collective commitment to justice and mercy:
• The Prophet Isaiah challenges us, as a nation, to know and abide by God’s ways. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house when you see them.” (Is 58:6-7)
• In the Gospels, Jesus calls on us to embrace the just vision presented by Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18)
• The Quran teaches a piety that is inextricably linked with the spending of money for the betterment of those who are struggling: “Never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend – verily, God has full knowledge thereof.” (al-Imran 3:92)
“To whom should we go first?” Pope Francis’s question rings true as we seek new budget priorities for fiscal year 2016. Our different faith traditions agree that Congress should not simply respond to those with the loudest voices whose money and political clout promote their own self-interest. Rather, our elected leaders must consider those whose voices are intentionally ignored, those who can’t rely on wealth or powerful connections to ensure that their needs are addressed.
Our faith communities have united around these basic principles of a faithful budget:
• Economic opportunity for all through investments in education, sustainable jobs with living wages, and policies that help families build assets. Current budget proposals provide no additional funding for job creation.
• A genuinely progressive tax system, where those who reaped extraordinary benefits contribute proportionately to the good of all. Current budget proposals cut taxes and raise no new revenue for necessary programs.
• True human security (e.g., healthy communities) instead of military might. Current budget proposals drastically increase war funding while cutting money for human needs programs.
• Addressing human needs in the U.S. and around the world. Current budget proposals include deep cuts to SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid.
• Care for the economic wellbeing of future generations and for all creation. Current budget proposals cut programs that ensure healthier communities and help children be better prepared for school and future employment.
• Healthcare access for all. Current budget proposals seek to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which provides insurance for 16.4 million people.
• A robust role of government in providing for the common good. Current budget proposals cut funding for programs designed to reduce extreme inequality.
A group of interfaith leaders are briefing congressional staff this week, speaking about how our government should function – decision-making based on respect, engagement in respectful dialogue, and creatively working toward mutually beneficial solutions.
Like Congress, we as individual faith groups may disagree on specifics of how policies should be carried out. We find common ground, however, in a belief in the need for “a federal budget that fulfills our shared duty to each other in all segments of society, to those who are struggling to overcome poverty or are especially vulnerable, and to future generations through our collective responsibility as stewards of Creation.”
Our united faith communities call on Congress to recognize that where your money is, there your heart will be also. True public servants must uphold the wellbeing of all the people by crafting a faithful federal budget for our nation.
[Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, is executive director of NETWORK and author of A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community. She can be reached @sr_simone.]