Just got my weekly e-mailing from the PCUSA’s Washington Office, and it contains a splendid example of what happens when knee-jerk ideologues are let loose to use a denomination’s intellectual resources without supervision. Each mailing contains several issues that the Office is working on, along with “General Assembly Guidance” that is supposed to direct the Office’s lobbying efforts. This one is on the federal budget:

Yesterday, the House and Senate both approved a compromise Budget Resolution that had been the subject of much negotiation between the Chambers in the last few weeks. The House and Senate had each passed Budget Resolutions, but they differed on a number of points. Negotiators split the difference on many of those differing provisions while keeping military spending at the same level:

•Total domestic discretionary spending — for education, infrastructure, environment, science, health programs, employment programs, and many government benefits — will be $8 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate agreed to add $3 billion and the House agreed to cut $5 billion from their original resolutions.)
•The international affairs budget will be $2 billion lower than the president’s request. (The Senate accepted a $2 billion cut, and the House agreed to add $3.3 billion to its resolution.)

Now, please note three things about these items. First, the amount the president requested in his 2010 budget is $3.6 trillion. The $8 billion reduction, therefore, amounts to less than 0.25% of the total amount requested. Second, the Obama budget significantly increases all of the areas mentioned above, meaning the reduction will be in the amount of increase, not actual cuts. Finally, note that only very broad areas–”education,” for instance, or “science”–are mentioned, so there’s no way to know what is actual the nature of the reduction is. But here’s the “General Assembly Guidance” cited by the e-mail:

The 207th General Assembly (1995) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called on Congress “to defeat any proposals that base budget or deficit reductions primarily on the services provided to children, families, the needy, and the homeless” and urged strengthening of federal commitments to these groups. The Assembly also called on Congress “to insist on a government that follows ethical values of justice for the poor, welfare for children, hospitality to the stranger, and assistance to the disadvantaged.”

What’s wrong with this picture? There are no “budget or deficit reductions” here (in fact, mentioning “deficit reduction” here makes one wonder whether the author of this e-mail has been asleep since 1995), we have no way of knowing whether any program that actually helps “children, families, the needy, and the homeless” are actually involved, and the amount is so small as to be trivial, at least relative to the federal budget. Yet it’s obvious that the Washington Office is opposing this reduction from the president’s request, simply because Congress–owned and operated entirely by liberals–won’t write an entirely blank check for the executive branch to spend any amount of money it can imagine on pretty much anything.

The other budget item mentioned is, if anything, even worse from the standpoint of suggesting that any kind of thought went into the Office’s stance:

•Military spending was set at $686 billion by both chambers.

As for “General Assembly Guidance,” we get this:

Earlier, the 197th General Assembly (1985) “reaffirms opposition to further increases in military spending and supports cuts in expensive weapon systems.”

They are taking their cue for a stance on 2010 military spending from a 25-year-old GA resolution! Do you remember 1985? Ronald Reagan was sworn in for his second term, the Soviet Union was still around, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, Saddam Hussein was still at war with Iran. Does the Washington Office really think that the military needs of any country, much less the United States, stay the same over the course of a quarter century? Do they really think that the General Assembly (which has no business making pronouncements on matters like this anyway, having absolutely no competence to deal with the subject) would pass the identical resolution today as if nothing had changed?

Don’t answer that last question.

The point is this: the activists in the Washington Office want the people of the PCUSA, the people who pay its freight, to believe the activists are relevant and listened to in Washington. If they aren’t, there’s no reason for them to be there. And yet they rely on statements about federal policy made two years after the current president graduated from college to justify the stances they take. That’s not a recipe for an agency that wants to be taken seriously in the halls of power; that’s the recipe for creating a laughingstock that isn’t worth a dime of its denomination’s money.

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