This could have gotten under the heading of “Theocrat Watch,” but I’ll do it as a standalone. Seems the Sojourners/Circle of Protection crowd has taken to issuing veiled threats to get what they want out of Washington. An ad in the Politico this morning trumpeted this:
And as we all know, it’s not nice to fool
Mother Nature the Religious Left God. As usual, it’s All About the Poor:
When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America to avoid defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation—and even the world—is watching.
But God is watching too.
The Bible teaches that God is watching to see how the poor fare under the decisions of the politically powerful (Isaiah 10). What happens to low-income people, families, and kids—at home and around the world—will be of keen interest to God, according to scripture. In the past, our country has successfully reduced deficits and poverty at the same time. There was a bipartisan agreement to defend the means-tested programs for low-income people against cuts.
That reference to how we’ve “reduced defiicits and poverty at the same time” has got to be a reference to the mid-to-late 1990s. Between 1992 and 1999, real GDP rose almost 30%. Real purchasing power rose almost 20%. The annualized unemployment rate went from 7.5% in 1992 to 4.0% in 2000. In other words, a roaring economy resulted in greater employment, which in turn resulted in greater personal income. People were lifted out of poverty–the poverty rate went from 15.1% in 1993 to 11.3% in 2000—but it wasn’t by the government, it was by the private economy. The point: last time I checked the economy of 2011 isn’t the economy of 1997. So talking about reducing deficits and cutting poverty at the same time is essentially a non sequitur, especially since what these people actually mean is the federal government reducing poverty.
For the past 25 years, every automatic budget cut mechanism has exempted core low-income assistance programs. But not this time. Neither the Republican House, nor the Democratic Senate, nor the Obama White House has clearly and publicly committed to protect the poor and vulnerable, even though religious leaders have persistently pressed them all to do so. It’s a moral imperative that we do so again today.
I don’t know whether their history is accurate (I suspect not, especially since I have no idea what they mean by “automatic budget cut mechanism”). But here’s the real point: today (or at least 22 of the last 25) is not like the last 25 years. We had not added over five trillion dollars to the national debt in the space of 3 years. We were not looking at the possibility (proposed by the president in a plan that was rejected 97-0 in the Senate) of almost doubling our current levels of debt in the next ten years. We were not looking at a situation where the federal government had added over 100,000 employees at a time when the private economy had shed millions of workers. And we were not looking at a time when the definition of “poor” had become so loose.
For Jim Wallis % Co., cutting federal programs equals savaging the “poor and vulnerable.” Let’s take a look at what that actually means:
•WIC: I’m a big supporter of the Women, Infants, and Children program, which is supposed to help pregnant women and young children avoid the debilitating effects of malnutrition. My wife and I got help from WIC for several months while I was in seminary in 1980-81, while we had a family income of $5000 a year, half of which went to pay rent. But in 2011, a family of four may receive WIC benefits with an income of $41,348, if the state they live in uses the federal standard (most d0). Should a family of four making $41k a year in low cost-of-living states really be getting federal assistance?
•For the Low Income Home Energy Program (LIHEAP), there’s a range between states. For a family of four, eligibility is capped at 60% of a state’s median income level. In 2011, these range for a family of four from $33,167 in New Mexico to $61,483 in New Jersey. Should a family of four in New Jersey, even with its high cost of living, really be getting federal “poverty” assistance with an income of over $60K?
•Housing assistance: We’ve all heard of Section 8 housing. Generally, it’s not something you’d want to live in. But a lot more people are eligible to do so than you might think. For instance, here in the DC metro area, a family of four with an income of $67,600 can live Section 8. In San Francisco, that same family can make $85,450. In the very pleasant hills of Hunterdon County, NJ, on the Pennsylvania line, you can make $67,600.
Now, these are just three, and I’m sure that there are federal programs that don’t have outlandish eligibility requirements. But here’s the problem: for Wallis & Co., such subtleties are of no consequence. In true Manichean style, you are either For the Poor or you are Against the Poor. You are either a Good Guy or a Bad Guy. You are either a Soldier of God or a demonic conservative. The idea that there might be federal programs, set up with good anti-poverty intentions, that are poorly run, bureaucratically bloated, creeping into the middle class, or just plain ineffective never occurs to them. Nor do they show any understanding that Social Security and Medicare, both of which they’ve included in the “circle of protection” for the “poor and vulnerable” (since seniors are defined as “vulnerable” per se, I guess) are not means-tested, which means that every years tens of billions of dollars are transferred from lower-income working folks to rich and middle class people who happen to be over 62-65 years of age.
So there you have it. A bunch of people’s whose knowledge of basic economics and government roughly equals their personal acquaintance with Madagascar lemurs is issuing veiled threats to Washington politicians about how “God is watching” them to make sure they do as Wallis & Co. dictate. I suspect the look on God’s face, if He had one, will be about like this fellow’s when He sees His name used this way: