Biblical scholar Lisa Sharon Harper demonstrates in Sojourners today that she isn’t much better at public policy than she is at understanding Scripture. She writes:

Do the numbers 917 billion, 1.5 trillion, 690 billion, 98 billion and 32 mean anything to you?

If not, I bet they just washed over you like water off a duck’s back. Hearing those figures probably felt as inconsequential as the drink you had with your lunch yesterday. What was that, anyway? Iced tea? A diet soda?

Numbers feel insignificant — until we understand their meaning.

The meaning to which she is referring is the terrifying possibility that the beast that is the federal government may not have total carte blanche to citizens’ money, and may, as a result have to give up some of its more badly or unnecessarily done tasks. But Harper is not one to pass up a propaganda moment:

  • The U.S. Congress already cut $917 billion from the nation’s budget on August 1 as part of the infamous debt ceiling deal.
  • As part of the deal, Congress has to cut another $1.2 – 1.5 trillion from the budget by November 23.
  • As you are reading this, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (a.k.a. The Super Committee) is making choices about who and what our nation will protect. Will we protect the wealthiest 2 percent by preserving$690 billion in Bush era tax cuts? Or will we protect children by preserving $650 billion in special education, student aid, and assistance to low-income schools? Will we protect corporations by preserving $97.5 billion in subsidies for big business or will we protect families by preserving $98 billion in Head Start and child care programs?
  • We have 32 days left to remind Congress that, “Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss” (Proverbs 22:16).

Behind the numbers are vulnerable people and sacred lives.

Actually, behind those numbers is an extraordinary amount of horse hockey, as Col. Potter might have put it. One at a time:

1) On the $917 billion, that’s over ten years, so its less than $100 billion a year toward reducing a deficit of over a trillion a year for years to come. Then there’s the composition of that figure: $156 billion of it is in reduced interest payments; $741 billion is from discretionary spending including defense (“discretionary spending” being defined as anything that is not an entitlement, meaning it could include countless unnecessary or wasteful expenditures, such as the stationing of troops in Germany to guard against a Soviet invasion, farm subsidies to people like David Rockefeller and Ted Turner, duplicative programs–do we really need 130 programs for at-risk youth?–corporate welfare, etc.); and $20 billion from educational loans and other forms of waste, fraud, and abuse. The deal actually increases Pell grants (a major source of the student aid mentioned in her third point). Oh, and according to CNN, “The framework will immediately cap domestic and defense spending, resulting in cuts of $917 billion over 10 years.” That means that nothing now being spent will be cut, only that future increases will be foregone. (That’s how they define “spending cuts” in Washington and at Sojourners, apparently.)

2) The $1.2-1.5 trillion the “Super Committee” has to come up with is, again, over the next ten years, and will also almost certainly be of the “no more money for you than you’ve got now” variety.

3) This third point is the real howler. She sets it up as if these are the actual choices Congress will face: tax cuts for rich people, or cutting off special ed kids? Subsidies for EvilCo, or Head Start? It’s one or the other. They can’t consider cuts in subsidizing academic research on the sex lives of cockroaches, or farm subsidies for corporate farmers, or grants to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, or funding for Planned Parenthood or National Public Radio, they can’t consider cutting out any of the 342 economic development programs, or any unnecessary military bases or weapons programs. They can only cut Head Start (the efficacy of which is simply assumed) and special education so that Warren Buffett can continue to complain about being undertaxed while Berkshire Hathaway continues to dispute billions in back taxes.

The rest of her article expands on her title: “Behind the Numbers: We are Mobilizing!” (She is “Director of Mobilizing” for Sojourners, so I guess like Governor William J. Lepetomane and many federal employees she has to protect her phony-baloney job.) Desperate times require desperate measures, so the Director of Mobilizing is calling the righteous to action:

Last year we asked, “What would Jesus cut?”

Last spring we fasted for a moral budget.

Now, we’re escalating. Please join us!

Come and See!

Inspired by the biblical story of Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-46), Sojourners is calling on faith communities and faith-based organizations to invite their Congressional representatives to “come and see” the organizations and people in your communities that will be placed at risk by severe budget cuts.

Human Circles of Protection

On Nov. 16, 2011, at 12 p.m. in each time zone, faith leaders, parishioners, advocates, community leaders and their constituents will come together, join hands and create human circles of prayer and protection around agencies and programs at risk of deep budget cuts.

We will let Congress know we must not balance our national budget on the backs of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

That’s escalation, all right. Next thing you know, Harper will be calling on her soldiers of statism to pull out the big guns. That’s right: bring on the drum circles!