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Commentary: A Faithful Budget

This column is being written before the results of the election are known. Regardless of the outcome, however, the winners will face tough challenges. Growing numbers of persons unemployed and in poverty require consideration and response even as budgets get more difficult to balance.

Former President Bill Clinton was quoted during the most recent campaign as saying that we have to decide if we are a nation that says, “We are in this together,” or a nation that says, “You are on your own.” Certainly a philosophy of the role of the social services safety net must be agreed upon as we attempt to balance budgets at all levels of government and to get control of the national debt, as well as debts at all levels of government and the needs for critical infrastructure improvements.

One approach that I believe should be on the table in a serious way is that enunciated by a group of nuns in “The Faithful Budget” (http://www.faithfulbudget.org/). Failure to take into account its major provisions will mean that we expect as the wealthiest nation on earth to continue a society of haves and have-nots. Some will denounce the budget’s provisions as socialistic; others will embrace them based on their religious doctrine. I believe they are as American as the notion of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

There are many more details in the Faithful Budget than can be considered here, but a review of its preamble will give you a flavor of what it is about. While endorsed by dozens of religious organizations, “where respect and care for one another is a sacred imperative,” the Faithful Budget proposes that “American society as a whole is, or should be, also such a place, where we delight in the value of each and every one, and gladly accept a mutual responsibility for one another’s wellbeing.” It goes on, “Government of, by and for the people at its best is a vital forum for promoting the common good and ensuring that no one is left behind.” The communities of faith that put together the Faithful Budget “call on our elected leaders to craft 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.”

As was noted during the presidential campaign by many commentators, there was little or no mention of the issue of poverty and no mention of climate change. Yet the Catholic Sisters who have promoted the Faithful Budget through their Nuns on the Bus campaign state emphatically that “it is simply not true that we must reduce assistance for the poorest among us in order to achieve fiscal recovery.” Instead, “we need the government’s continued partnership to combat poverty by providing a truly adequate short-term safety net, and by means of policies that serve to prevent poverty, reduce extreme inequality, restore economic opportunity for all, and rebuild a robust middle class.” And the Nuns say that the Faithful Budget “must encompass a reverence for our created environment, making choices that protect air, water, and land…”

Now that we know the outcome of the election, can we expect that the concepts of the Faithful Budget might at least be considered?