Blog: Far From a Faithful Budget
May 1, 2015
Last Tuesday, Sister Simone Campbell was joined by leaders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, American Muslim Health Professionals, and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism for a briefing on Capitol Hill calling for a federal budget that is rooted in justice and abides by our shared faith principals. The “Faithful Budget” they discussed would prioritize true human security, ensure access to health care, raise revenue through a fair tax system, and uphold the role of government to overcome poverty, reduce inequality, and rebuild the middle class.
The next day, Congress released its joint FY 2016 budget conference agreement. This reconciles the House and Senate budgets into one plan and sets the levels of spending for the twelve appropriations bills that will follow. This proposed budget for our country’s spending has the support of House and Senate budget committee majority leaders. On the other hand, Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee Sen. Bernie Sanders called it “a national embarrassment” and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said the budget was “wrong for America.” Though the budget declares itself “a responsible path forward to reduce the Nation’s debt burden and expand economic opportunity for all,” in reality it delivers mass disinvestment in our communities and a total abandonment of the promises we have made as a nation.
Overall, the budget adheres to the severe sequester caps put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 ($523 billion for defense and $493.5 billion for nondefense), but manages to provide billions of additional dollars to the military budget by authorizing $96.3 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. Sequester caps squeeze spending to insufficient amounts, diminishing our capacity to make investments that are vital to our national wellbeing. By choosing not to override sequestration caps, but avoiding them through the OCO fund for defense spending, our elected officials send a clear message that the wellbeing of the military is more important than the wellbeing of their constituents.
One of the appropriations bills affected by this budget that is critically important to NETWORK is Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Unfortunately, the budget spares very little in its harsh cuts to infrastructure, affordable housing and community building. The $55.3 billion bill that was released provides $9.7 billion less than President Obama’s budget request. For example, one program, the Choice Neighborhood grants, receives $20 million, which is a quarter of the funding it received last year. Such steep cuts not only hurt our communities now, but also will have lasting effects in the future when the results of our disinvestment start to show.
Our country recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act which currently provides health insurance to 16.4 million people. Unfortunately, the budget agreement’s centerpiece is its explicit instructions to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its provisions. In addition to repealing a law that has lowered the rate of uninsured adults and led to lower healthcare costs, it calls for reforms to Medicaid that will lead to higher costs for states and individuals across the country. These harmful cuts to programs that provide health insurance to millions of families and individuals are a clear indication that many of our elected officials do not believe that healthcare is a human right, and should be affordable and accessible to all.
The budget conference agreement that was released is nowhere near a faithful budget. Far from embodying the principles of justice, mercy and love that our religious traditions are founded on, it elevates profits over people, partisan politics over affordable healthcare, and militarization over peace. President Obama has already said he will veto harmful appropriations bills that come to the White House, but there is still time for you to ask your legislators to write bills that adhere to the principles of justice, mercy and love that would constitute a faithful budget.