By Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director, NETWORK and Rev. Chuck Currie, United Church of Christ, Portland, Ore.
Social Security is the cornerstone of our nation’s safety net. It keeps 21 million people out of poverty, and for millions more it makes the difference between barely getting by and living with dignity and stability. The benefit cut caused by the president’s proposed adoption of “chained-CPI” inflation measure is wrong. While projected impacts of chained-CPI vary, there is no denying the effect it will have on seniors: less income and less economic security in an era when savings are evaporating, wages are falling, healthcare costs are rising, and 401k’s have failed. Exemptions that protect very poor and very old seniors may ameliorate the impact for some retirees, but many on fixed incomes and tight budgets will fall through the cracks, and most seniors will be worse off. The president’s Social Security cut isn’t a tough choice that demonstrates seriousness; it’s a morally dubious political calculation – especially when there are fairer, more effective ways to address our fiscal challenges.
Discretionary spending cuts sound perfectly acceptable in the abstract, but after years of relentless budget cuts, we have already gone down to the bone. The president’s proposed $100 billion in additional cuts cannot avoid harming people at the economic margins. As homelessness rises, food insecurity and hunger reach unconscionable levels, and poverty becomes further entrenched, we are in no position to impose immediate austerity. Our values of solidarity, the common good, and concern for the vulnerable demand better.
The president has also not gone far enough in promoting a living wage. Raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour does not restore workers to where they were in 1970. It is a step but not enough.
We should give credit where credit is due. Protecting Medicaid, food stamps and tax credits for low-income workers will reduce poverty and expand opportunity. Broadening access to early-childhood education profoundly impacts children’s futures, and investing in job creation will help millions of Americans get back on their feet. Closing loopholes that let the richest Americans pay lower taxes than the middle class is a small but good step toward remedying the gross inequality that flouts the ideals of justice, fairness and equal opportunity.
Context is important, of course. The radicalism and intransigence of Republicans in Congress pushed us to this point. Year after year, they have held the economy hostage and passed budget proposals that would devastate the poor, further enrich the wealthiest Americans and powerful special interests, and hobble the government’s ability to promote the common good. However, Democratic leaders should have learned from the federal budget sequester debate that putting bad policy on the table leads to bad policy being enacted.
Having spoken with President Obama and his staff on multiple occasions about the faith community’s moral priorities in the federal budget debate, we know his commitment to the common good and protecting the most vulnerable is very sincere. We know he faces an opposition party that appears implacable. We also know that he can do better than the budget plan he unveiled this week.
Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour. The Rev. Chuck Currie is a United Church of Christ minister in Portland, Ore. who serves two United Methodist Church congregations in ecumenical partnership. He was a supporter of President Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.